Save the Tiger

1411. An easily recognizable number since almost the beginning of this year. But what does this number actually mean to different people – that’s the question that piques my curiosity. The concerted efforts of the media and the partnership of the Aircel group with WWF-India to help save our tigers are laudable to say the least, but what do these translate into? I look around and this what I find – people being mobilized to voice their support and opinions on visible mediums like social networking sites (220,234 fans of “Stripey the cub” on Facebook – I’m one of them). But is that enough? By no means! That’s like 0.02% of India’s population!! It is easy to sit in the comfort of our homes and click on a button in support of some cause; then conveniently forget about our supported cause until somebody rakes up the topic in the course of a banal conversation. On the other hand, it is also easy to talk spiritedly about what needs to be done to make a success of the Project Tiger. But what of the tens of thousands of villagers who have been relocated from the forest areas and who, in the process, have had their only known means of livelihood taken away from them.  Here are a few facts for the uninitiated:-

•    The Project Tiger was launched on April 1, 1973 at the Corbett National Park with the aim of tiger conservation in specifically constituted ‘tiger reserves’, which are representative of various bio-geographical regions falling within the country.
•    The reserves were created on a ‘core-buffer’ strategy. The core areas were freed from all sorts of human activities and the buffer areas were subjected to ‘conservation oriented land use’.
•    There are at present 39 tiger reserves in 17 different states in India.

To be fair, the Project Tiger envisioned not just the welfare of our national animal but also the welfare of our people. The villagers who were relocated were to be provided with alternative means to procure their livelihood. But, alas, not much success could come out of this, precisely because of poor implementation. Half measures are no measures.  Most of us are now aware that tiger conservation translates to taking care of our environment and securing the future of our beloved planet. But to these people who have lived all their lives in the forests, it does not matter what the future holds when their very present is in danger. Thus, to make a success of tiger conservation, the welfare of these people also has to be kept in mind. The recommendations of the recently set up Tiger Task Force are thoroughly commendable but they also need to be fully implemented. The importance of the success of Project Tiger cannot be reiterated enough. It is not just tiger conservation, per se, that is involved here but forestry, sustainable development, environmental conservation and socio-economic growth.

We all need to pitch in our bit to ensure the success of ‘save our tiger’ campaign. Understandably, we cannot all drop everything and rush to the jungles.

Neelam Vaiphei