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UNDER THREAT

For those who like figures, the statistics provided in the national tiger estimation report, which was released on Monday, will bring some comfort. The exercise of counting the number of tigers in India — carried out over the last two years — reveals an increase in the number of adult tigers: in 2007, the last tiger census, the number was 1,411; in 2011, the reported number is 1,706. This is not only an improvement but is also suggestive of a reversal of the declining trend. Both the 2007 and 2011 censuses are more reliable than the ones that preceded the 2007 one. All the pre-2007 censuses were prepared on the basis of pug marks, which most experts consider to be unreliable and bogus. From 2007, the more scientific method of setting up camera traps in the forest paths that tigers follow has been adopted. In spite of the improved method used in the 2007 and 2011 censuses, the full details as to how the numbers in the 2011 count were arrived at are still not available to experts. Also, the report must go through a peer group review to make the claim that the decline noticed in 2007 has been reversed.

In fact, various objective factors that threaten the survival of tigers continue to exist and, therefore, the threat is unabated. This induces scepticism about any exaggerated claim made on the basis of the 2011 figures. The habitat of the panthera tigris is disappearing because of human encroachment; where it still exists, it is badly fragmented. There is no evidence that poaching has been eradicated even though this is an easy thing to do. What is alarming is the view of experts that India’s reproducing tiger populations are now concentrated in 10 per cent of all tiger habitats, which hold 90 per cent of the country’s tigers. These “source populations’’ need close annual monitoring. The present practice of providing all-India tiger counts every four years needs to be reviewed. The situation warrants more close and focused monitoring. The fate of individual tigers needs to be tracked. At a different level is the battle against official and societal ignorance and indifference regarding tigers and their link to the overall environmental health. The tiger is an indicator species and is also an apex species at the top of the food chain. Its survival is critical for the survival of human beings in more ways than the latter care to recognize. It is necessary to keep the tiger burning bright in the forests.

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