Wild tiger governance in India stands out as a role model of collective responsibility between the Centre and states.
India is working on its new tiger vision. The wild tiger is not just a photographer’s delight. It is a mascot for economic growth, ecosystem services, adaptation to climate change, and pandemic buffering. (File image)
In November 2010, all tiger range countries committed to doubling their number of wild tigers. This was an important summit at St Petersburg, facilitated by the Global Tiger Initiative of the World Bank along with the Russian Federation. The goal was named ‘Tx2’ by these countries. A Global Tiger Recovery Programme (GTRP) was codified. Gain or loss in the number of wild tigers has always been appealing. And why not? Numbers figure prominently in our daily life
Little more than a decade has passed since then. What is the current wild tiger status? What worked? What didn’t? The second Tiger Range Countries Summit at Vladivostok in September 2022 revealed a mixed picture. Broadly put, South Asia and Russia maintain optimal wild-tiger status. India and Nepal achieved their Tx2. The current wild tiger number globally is a little over 4,500.
As an implementing arm of the Global Tiger Initiative Council, tiger range countries have mandated the Global Tiger Forum (GTF) to monitor and review the GTRP. This happens frequently with mission visits and stocktaking events.
Countries investing in tiger governance fared well. In some, where problems persisted, tigers are now functionally extinct (Cambodia, Vietnam, and Lao PDR). Thailand and Indonesia hold promise but the battle is far from won. The basic field delivery system needs to improve, with a focus on protection infrastructure. Malaysia’s efforts in the context are commendable.
The Indian experience provided much-needed insights. Field visits of Malaysian tiger delegations got a first-hand experience of existing good practices in field formations and commendable assistance from the government of India through the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
What has worked? To know more, it is important to dispassionately see India’s tiger efforts. Undoubtedly, India is in a leadership position on the tiger front. There are no parallels to the long-standing track record of Project Tiger since 1973. No tiger country but India has a dedicated chapter in its national legislation on the wild tiger. Wild tiger governance stands out as a role model of collective responsibility between the Centre and states.
The NTCA was a game changer and gave much-needed statutory backing and, in turn, impetus, to Project Tiger. Tiger reserves have gone up from the initial nine to 53. The last few years have seen more promising areas coming under the Project-Tiger fold. This works out to almost 2.3 percent of the country’s geographical area.
What are the tiger practices? Two mutually complementary and aggressive portfolios prescribe the agenda for actions. The “exclusive” tiger agenda focuses on viable tiger populations in core areas (national parks/sanctuaries) within the natural habitat carrying capacity. The peripheral areas (buffer) are governed by “inclusive” actions to handle the co-occurrence of people and wild animals moving out of the core. The Tiger Conservation Plan (TCP) is a statutory requirement for every tiger reserve which provides a site-specific roadmap for such actions.
The NTCA has set guidelines for eighteen field actions, and almost a dozen Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs). There are special audits carried out by the NTCA, namely, “fire audit, security audit, and the like”. Active management is key. The reproductive surplus is carefully taken away to promising reserves with habitat viability and good protection status.
On the international front, there are bilateral instruments/Memorandums of Understanding with several tiger range countries (India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, and Myanmar).
This has worked. As of now, India holds more than 70 per cent of global wild tigers. Based on our experience with tigers, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, cheetahs have also been brought back to the country. The well-known co-predator, the leopard, has also seen an increase in numbers.
The number gains in big cats have thrown up a lot of challenges. The human-tiger interface is more sensitive than ever. Corridor linkages need to remain functional. The ongoing transformations in tiger landscapes call for envisioning a larger “zone of influence” with a focus on integration on several fronts, namely, spatial, sectoral, intra-sectoral, vertical; and resource pooling. The district planning process must incorporate actions for stakeholder departments to carry out, retrofit, or mitigate their field actions in sync with requirements. We need a landscape-scale master plan to capture the envisioned strategy, monitored by the existing administrative apparatus with due legal backing and funding support from ongoing schemes.
India is working on its new tiger vision. The wild tiger is not just a photographer’s delight. It is a mascot for economic growth, ecosystem services, adaptation to climate change, and pandemic buffering.
At half a century old, Project Tiger has been a great learning experience. It made it to the Guinness Book of World Records (for the largest wildlife camera trap survey). The NTCA is poised for more milestone initiatives.