Tiger, Tiger…Not Burning Bright

469422516_1b196524a6.jpgIt is a sorry state of affairs in which India’s national animal finds itself today. According to the latest tiger census report, there has been a 50 per cent decline in the tiger population across the country. To be more accurate, only 1,411 tigers can be found today in the wild, compared to 3,642 in 2001-02. This startling decrease in numbers can be attributed mainly to direct poaching, increasing man-animal conflicts, loss of quality habitat due to deforestation, and loss of the natural prey base of the big cats. Wildlife experts predict that it can very soon become impossible to save the remaining tigers. This speaks volumes about the ineptitude of our government agencies and wildlife officials who have largely failed to work in tandem and put a stop to this vicious trend of decreasing tiger population.

The Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, known for its tigers, has been the worst affected, with none of the species left now. Increase in poaching, for its skin and body parts (which are said to have medicinal properties), has led to the disappearance of the animals in large numbers. Also, Central India, which earlier saw a thriving tiger population in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, faced maximum losses after Sariska, 59 per cent of the tiger population disappeared from Madhya Pradesh. So did 50 per cent from Maharashtra. However, good news trickled in from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Jim Corbett National Park, where the tiger population has increased. In Tamil Nadu alone, numbers went up substantially from 60 in 2001-02 to 76 at present. Also, the decline in numbers marks the status of tigers not in reserves and protected areas, but outside them.

One only needs to look at the manner in which the entire government machinery functions to understand why our national animal is on the verge of extinction today. Corrupt government officials, though aware of the flourishing illegal trade in tiger skins and parts, do almost nothing to check this horrific practice. A great pomp and show is made when tiger skins are seized, or a trade racket is busted. Police officials are duly rewarded. However, everything is promptly forgotten until an organization or concerned wildlife activists raise their voices again. The Government seems to have been caught napping most of the times. All its claims of “doing everything possible to save our heritage” have proved to be false, as vindicated by the alarming situation today. Vacancies amongst the staff of forest reserves need to be filled with the utmost urgency.

Mr. Rajesh Gopal, member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, states, “There is still hope if saving tigers is taken as a priority.” Unfortunately, that is not how our government sees it. Saving this endangered species has not yet found a place on its agenda. The entire country needs to put its weight behind wildlife organizations and experts to save these beautiful cats from sure death. Create awareness about their plight, carry out an online campaign, mobilize public opinion, show the government what the youth wants. Surely we would not want to point out tigers only in photographs and textbooks to our children, rather than hear their excited squeals when they spot an actual one on a wildlife excursion. It looks like a dismal scenario. But there is still hope. The plight of our majestic national animal is just ‘roaring’ to be heard!

Moonmoon Ghosh

[Image Courtesy wallyg]