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50 Years of “Project Tiger”

Context: The 5th cycle of India’s Tiger Census has been released recently to mark the 50th year of Project Tiger.

Key Findings of the Tiger Census

  • India’s tiger population rose by 200 from 2,967 in 2018 to 3,167 in 2022.
  • This is around 6.7% higher than the previous estimate of 2018.
  • As per the report- some areas like the Shivalik and Gangetic floodplains, Central Indian and Eastern Ghats landscapes have recorded a “substantial” increase in minimum tiger populations, while others like the Western Ghats landscape and northeastern hills, Brahmaputra plains have witnessed a decline.
  • There has been local extinction of tigers in some areas such as Kawal Tiger Reserve in Telangana.

Tiger Estimation

  • The process of estimating the number of tigers in a given area is called ‘Tiger estimation.’
  • The census estimates are done every four years by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) with technical help from the Wildlife Institute of India.
  • The first countrywide assessment was done in 2006, followed by 2010, 2014, 2018, and the latest 2022.
  • In 2020, the 2018 census made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest camera-trapping exercise in the world.
Year Tiger Population (in numbers)
2006 1411
2010 1706
2014 2226
2018 2967
2022 3167

National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)

  • NTCA is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
  • It was established in 2005 following the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force.
  • It was constituted under enabling provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 as amended in 2006, for strengthening tiger conservation, as per powers and functions assigned to it.

Wildlife Institute of India

  • It is an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change.
  • Established– In 1982, in Dehradun (Uttarakhand).
  • It offers training programs, academic courses, and advisory in wildlife research and management.
  • Vision- To develop the Institute as ‘A Global Centre of Excellence’ in the field of wildlife research, training, and advocacy.
  • Mission- To nurture the development of wildlife science and promote its application in conservation, in consonance with our culture and socio-economic milieu.

50 years of Project Tiger

Project Tiger was launched by the Central government in 1973 to promote the conservation of the tiger.

More about Project Tiger

  • Launch: It was launched in 1973 from the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand.
    • it is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
    • It was initially launched in 9 Tiger reserves (TRs) in different states of India.
  • Objective: To ensure the survival and maintenance of the tiger population in specially constituted Tiger reserves throughout India.
    • It provides central assistance to tiger range States for in-situ conservation of tigers in designated tiger reserves.
  • Implementing Agency: National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) was established through Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006 to provide statutory authority to Project Tiger.
  • Funding pattern: Centre provides financial assistance to States of 60% and 50% for expenditure on all non-recurring items and expenditure on recurring items respectively. Northeastern and Himalayan States are provided 90% central assistance in both cases.
  • States Covered: 18

Achievement/Milestones Reached: Project Tiger has achieved the following Milestones

  • Highest tiger population in the world: India hosts more than 75% of the global wild tiger population, with a current population of about 3,167 tigers, which is increasing at an annual rate of 6%.
  • Establishment and development of new Tiger Reserves: From nine tiger reserves covering 18,278 sq km in 1973, ‘Project Tiger’ has today expanded to 54 reserves covering over 75,000 sq km (2.4% of India’s geographical area).
  • Anti-poaching initiatives: Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) are deployed in several TRs for focused anti-poaching operations and a special strategy for monsoon patrolling.
  • Fostering awareness for eliciting local public support enabled by branding and marketing of project tiger.
  • Scientific research and monitoring: ‘Project Tiger’ has provided opportunities for scientific research and monitoring, which has led to a better understanding of the behavior, ecology, and population dynamics of tigers.

About Tigers

Tigers are the largest cat species and are both umbrella and flagship species.

  • Status-
    • IUCN: Endangered
    • CITES: Appendix I
    • Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: Schedule I
  • World Tiger Day- 29th July
  • Largest Tiger Reserve– Nagarjunsagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve, Andhra Pradesh
  • Smallest Tiger Reserve- Bog Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra
  • Highest Tiger Density- Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand

Where are Tigers found in the Wild?

  • Tiger Range Countries: India, Nepal, China, Russia, Bhutan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Sumatra (Indonesia), and Malaysia.
  • Eight subspecies of tiger existed in the past out of which three have been extinct for many years.
  • The five-surviving subspecies of tiger are-
    • Indian Tiger or Royal Bengal Tiger (native to Indian Subcontinent)
    • Indo-Chinese tiger
    • Siberian or Amur Tiger 
    • Sumatran Tiger 
    • South China Tiger
  • The three subspecies of tigers that became extinct in the past century are: the Bali Tiger, the Javan Tiger, and the Caspian Tiger.

What are the Concerns Associated with the Project Tiger?

  • Habitat fragmentation: The creation of designated tiger reserves has led to habitat fragmentation, which can result in isolated tiger populations that are more vulnerable to genetic problems, disease, and other threats.
  • Human wildlife conflicts and Retaliatory killings: Human-tiger conflict has increased in recent years due to factors like- habitat loss/fragmentation/degradation, saturation of tiger populations in certain regions, increase in human settlements and agricultural lands around protected areas etc.
  • Limited genetic diversity: The expansion of tiger populations in designated reserves has led to inbreeding and a lack of genetic diversity, which can impact the health and survival of tiger populations in the long term.
  • Structural and implementation issues with Project tiger:
    • Lack of confidence and trust building between the forest department and the local communities leading to absence of their proactive participation in conservation efforts.
    • Low capacity among local forest officials to effectively conduct surveillance and monitoring of tiger population.
    • Lack of adequate protection in outside areas: As per the latest cycle of the All-India Tiger Estimation, 2018 nearly 35% of tigers in India are found outside tiger reserves.
    • Issues related to rehabilitation and relocation of population from critical tiger habitats.
    • Financial constraints in some TRs to undertake activities like restoration of habitats.

India and Tiger Conservation

  • TX2 achievement: India has achieved the targets set under the TX2 initiative in 2018 (4 years in advance).
    • Tx2 is the global goal to double the number of wild tigers by the year 2022.
    • The goal has been set by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) through Global Tiger Initiative and Global Tiger Forum.
    • It was adopted in 2010 at the St. Petersburg Tiger Summit by 13 tiger range countries.
  • CA|TS accreditation: 14 Tiger Reserves in India have been awarded international Conservation Assured | Tiger Standards (CA|TS) accreditation.
    • It is a globally accepted conservation tool that sets best practices and standards to manage tigers and encourages assessments to benchmark progress.
    • CA|TS, which was officially launched in 2013, is an important component of Tx2.

International Big Cat Alliance (IBCA)

  • India has recently proposed to launch global alliance for big cats with an investment of $100 million.
  • The proposed alliance will provide assured support over five years with guaranteed funding of over Rs 800 crore.
  • The group will work towards the protection of the seven big cats — tiger, lion, leopard, snow leopard, puma, jaguar and cheetah.
  • Membership to the alliance will be open to 97 “range” countries, which contain the natural habitat of these big cats, as well as other interested nations, international organisations, etc.
  • The IBCA will engage in advocacy, partnership, knowledge e-portal, capacity building, eco-tourism, partnerships between expert groups and finance tapping.
  • The alliance will disseminate information on benchmarked practices, capacity building, resources repository, research and development, and awareness creation.
  • Its governance structure will comprise a General Assembly consisting of all member countries, a council of at least seven.

Way Forward

  • India also needs to further community involvement through a cultural model of conservation i.e. including local tribes like Idu Mishmi in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Also, we need a paradigm shift in tiger conservation policies in India. A landscape approach is the urgent need of time to protect the entire landscape instead of a few islands.

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