Project Tiger, India’s concerted effort to save the Bengal tiger from extinction, has been a success. The 50-year-old project has led to a near doubling of tiger numbers in India and success in other tiger habitat countries too. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hailed the landmark success.
As we have noted, the world’s tiger population was hanging by a thread around 1970. The picture still is troubled, but Indian authorities feel enough success has been achieved by Project Tiger that it should be the model for future efforts. There is controversy, however, as a “tiger-centric” conservation approach has been sharply criticized. Other critics feel that current “top-down” conservation mandates do not take into account the needs of people who must live with tigers and big cats.
The fact remains that India’s tigers have increased in numbers from a little more than 1,500 to just over 3,000. That number is an estimate. Indian authorities are fairly confident it is accurate and the numbers have risen. According to Panthera.org tiger numbers may be on the upswing world wide. Better counting may account for some of the increase, however.
Look around and it is easy to find a representation of the big cats. Finding the real thing is more difficult. The best estimate is that 100,00 tigers roamed the planet in 1900. Today, the number is thought to be about 4,500. With about 3000 of them in India, the situation remains grim. Tigers are not likely to go totally extinct, however. Private owners, zoo and sanctuaries are thought to house several times the number of wild tigers. The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado alone has many tigers held in safety.
There are 13 nations who had tigers recently, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, India, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam. Of the 13 tigers are believed locally extinct in Cambodia. Lao PDR and Vietnam. They are probably locally extinct in China. India, Nepal and Russia have reported gains in population. Habitat loss and poaching are the two biggest threats. Thai
officials recently mounted an effort to save a three-legged tiger from poachers. We have seen no word on their success.
Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, has perhaps been the most aggressive in wildlife conservation. But some feel Project tiger is too tiger-centric. These conservationsists believe that emphasizing tiger conservation slights other carnivores including leopards. India has been known to “landscape” some habitat to make it more appealing to tigers. Removing trees may help tigers but it hurts leopards. Others feel it is top down. They think that imposing conservation mandates on peoples who must live with the animals is wrong. A more “human centered” approach is their goal.
India has a delicate balancing act as it is home to nearly half of the 37 species of wild cats in the world. Protecting all of them equally is a challenge in a nation of 1.7 billion.