Humanity is truly an enigmatic creation of nature, isn’t it? First, it spends centuries killing animals for various purposes like the valuable skins, tusks, horns and of course for a good game, then a certain portion of the population finally realises that humans have been playing their games for far too long and an entire species is on the verge of extinction, thats when the conservation bug hits them and years worth of wildlife sensitisation programmes, signature campaigns and regulations follow. Then they celebrate the fact that due to their conservation efforts a certain population of a certain species has been benefitted and there is a rise in their numbers. I am talking about the recent hue and cry over the 30% increase in the tiger population, according to the latest census, and the discussions that have followed.
Ever since the alarming decrease of the tiger population was first noticed in 1972, when the tiger population fell from 40,000 (counted in 1900) to 1,872, a number of measures have been adopted by the Government, international organisations and NGOs have intervened accordingly. Let’s have a quick look at the facts:
India is home to about 70% of the world’s total tiger population.
At the turn of the 20th century, there were about 40,000 tigers. 1972 recorded a total of 1,872 tigers. Project Tiger was launched immediately to try and bring the situation under control. However, mass poaching remained a barrier. The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 was brought into effect immediately, incriminating poachers. This Act was amended in 2006 after the further decrease in the numbers. That year, an urgent need for further action was noted and a new task force was set up.
National Tiger Conservation Authority was established in 2005 according to the recommendation of the Tiger Task Force which was constituted by the Prime Minister of India, for the reorganised management of Project Tiger. Despite all the laws, 2008 saw the population drop to 1,411. 2011 recorded a population of 1706. Finally, 2014 saw a 30% rise and the count was 2,226.
The journey for Project Tiger has come to a point where for the first time some hope has been noticed. This increase has happened due to the constant surveillance and support that various NGOs and the Government have extended to the survival of this species. Technology has also helped track the tigers’ movements and figure out their changing patterns over the years. Drones, and infrared cameras have all been very helpful. WWF’s Human-Tiger conflict resolution programme is a stroke of genius as it helps reduce the antagonism of locals against these majestic creatures who sometimes venture into human societies which may lead to violent losses. Over the years, we have all generously contributed in various ways towards this campaign to Save The Tiger. Today, we all have the right to smile and say that our efforts have not been wasted.
However, I have one question. India is a country which has about 46 species of mammals in the endangered list, 21 species of birds and 16 species of reptiles in the critically endangered list, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Of the 215 Leopard deaths in 2014, 115 were killed by poachers. A staggering amount of 1,00,000 dead olive ridley turtles have been washed up on the Orissa shores in the last decade alone. Most of them were breeding adults and were killed by boat propellers and the local fishermen. Between 2008 and 2011, atleast 112 elephants died due to poaching and 50 more due to electrocution or railway accidents. These figures indicate that the Indian forests are in a far worse shape than we care to know of. A 30% increase in the tiger population maybe a hopeful story but what about the other animals which are equally endangered and equally at risk? Why the hue and cry just for tigers? Why ignore the rest? Of the 46 endangered species, we do not have a campaign trying to save every one of them. Why the selective attempts at preservation? The facts and figures that we know of are the ones that the Government bothered to record and make public, what about the others?
This idea that some animals need more saving than others because they are probably more valuable as a national animal or have more brand value, or are better known than the rest in the same list, is an abominable one. Its like putting a tag on the worth of an animal or species’ right to exist. As a kid when I first attended a Save The Tiger campaign in my school, the pitch of the campaign was that the tiger was a majestic creature, the king of the jungle and therefore if the king can be saved from extinction, we can save the entire forest full of animals. As a grown up, I realise how flawed the idea was. The other animals need as much saving as the tiger, we humans just choose to tell stories a certain way, irrespective of whether it is anywhere near the truth. We sell ideas. Any idea, told a certain way, can become an issue. We forget to take into account all the other stakeholders. If tigers are being poached, so are leopards and rhinos. Similarly, snakes and gharials are also getting endangered because of either being killed or losing habitats. What is the prioritisation of animal saving campaigns based on?
Maybe it is time to take note of our forests not because of just one or two animals that we’ve heard of. But the forest ecosystem where there has been a balance for thousands of years which has suddenly been disturbed after the forest cover is lessening day by day, after industries are being built in heavily forested areas. The balls are already in motion, maybe its time to go ahead with some damage control but not just for a few animals we know of, but every stakeholder involved in these ecosystems.