The LAST Tiger

At the turn of the century, India had 40,000 plus tigers. Today, 1,411

The tigers in the reserves in India are reporting a sharp decline in their already depleted numbers. The Sariska phenomenon - the reserve's entire tiger population was wiped out by poachers - has been repeated in the Panna tiger reserve. If these trends continue, the wild tiger would only be seen in touristy books and nature channels. Despite the government spending crores for tiger conservation, hope seems bleak.

A survey in 2006 estimated the tiger population at 1,411. Since then, more than 100 tigers have died because of poaching, natural reasons and human-animal conflict. Reports suggest that in Buxa tiger reserve in West Bengal not one of the 12 tigers have been spotted. Buxa, Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh, Manas in Assam, Valmiki in Bihar, Simlipal in Orissa, Indravati in Chhattisgarh and Palamu in Jharkhand face grave dangers from poachers. The tiger numbers here are fast depleting. Government's initiatives like Project Tiger and National Tiger Conservation Authority have failed to deliver.

Rampant poaching is the main enemy. Most tiger parts are sent to China where a single tiger fetches $50,000 plus. Despite being aware of the possible trade routes and poachers, little has been done to save the tiger. Most tiger reserves don't have an intelligence network and most of our reserves do not have a well-trained, equipped force to combat poachers. The forest guards are scared of the poachers' mafia as they possess modern weaponry compared to the decade-old .303 rifles that forest guards operate with.

To combat poaching, Project Tiger was launched in 1973. The estimated tiger population then was pegged at 1,827. After initial success, the project lost teeth. The tiger population today stands at 1,411 (approximately 1,165 to 1,657). Interestingly, at the turn of the century, India had 40,000 tigers. Despite crores being spent, the great Indian tiger is struggling for a small patch of forest and a prey base while poachers make merry of the sorry state the tiger is in.


This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2009