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How Many Tigers are Too Many?

After meeting Indian wildlife vet, Meera Mokashi, at the renowned Interventions in Wild Animal Health course earlier this year, Executive Director Olivia was delighted that WVI was able to facilitate Meera's subsequent attendance at Project Tiger's 50th anniversary conference. This is Meera's report. The top image was taken by her in Corbett National Park.

5 Takeaways from the 50 years of Project Tiger!

As we know, this year we celebrate 50-year mark of project tiger which was first announced in 1973 considering the declining tiger population. Over the five decades, immense work has been done to protect and increase the tiger population. Safe to say that this herculean task faced fair share of challenges. For the first time in India a conference was held to discuss everything that this project has achieved and what challenges lie ahead of us. Over twelve countries participated and shared their progress data and plans. Here are some of the things we thought you should know.

1. Progress so far
India had only nine tiger reserves in 1973 which have increased to fifty-three in 2023. These tiger reserves (TRs) cover almost 2.3% of India’s land area which is drastically less when compared with Bhutan’s impressive 50% land coverage. The objective is to ensure a viable population of tigers in India, as this country currently houses more than 70% of world’s tiger population. Along with India many other countries have increased their protected areas, including Cambodia (from 23 to 26) and Bhutan.

The tiger population in India has grown steadily and it raises a new question: How many tigers are too many tigers?

2. Challenges ahead
As wonderful as it is to have a flourishing population of tigers; it comes with its own unique set of challenges.
- In India safeguarding the protected areas is a huge task as many families have been living inside the parks for generations. This also raises the problem of domestic animal grazing in the protected areas which can increase disease exchange.
- 3167 tigers require a lot of protected area and currently habitat fragmentation is a big problem.
- Roads and railway lines cut up the territories again which restricts the path of animal migration. This increases road kills, human-animal conflict and even poses the threat of genetic saturation in the population.
- India has already reached its carrying capacity for tigers. Further growth requires a parallel increase in area as well, which is challenging due to India’s growing human population and infrastructure.
- If the tigers do not have enough space, these stress factors can reduce their breeding potential and eventually the number may start to decline again.
- Poaching is still a challenge for India’s wildlife.
- Diseases pose a threat like never before.

3. Exploring new territory
Going ahead, new solutions must be thought of and implied. Some of the ideas that came up were:
- To consider private conservation areas.
- Develop a landscape approach to conservation.
- Provide legal protection to animal corridors.
- Constitutional amendments to have 30% of India protected.
- Revenue distribution to local communities.

4. Need for attention!
Tiger is an umbrella species which protects the forest, allowing the conservation of other species. The conservation effort in India for tigers have been a great success but unfortunately there is close to nothing in place for marine conservation. India is still one the biggest exporter of sting rays. Nowadays there are efforts being made by organisations to save dugongs, sea turtles and a few other species but there is a huge need for substantial effort from the government.

There is a visible difference between conservation efforts towards a species that beings in revenue and other that haven’t been explored yet.

5. Alliance
Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi launched the International Big Cat Alliance (IBCA) for conservation of seven big cats namely tiger, lion, leopard, snow leopard, cheetah, jaguar and puma harbouring on our planet. The alliance aims to reach out to 97 range countries covering the natural habitats of these species. IBCA would further strengthen global cooperation and efforts to conserve the wild denizens, especially the big cats.