Conservation action for big cats in India

India's wild tiger numbers are very encouraging.

There are 2,226 tigers there, amounting to 70 percent of the world's tiger population, but such numbers can obfuscate the tremendous challenges that tigers continue to face across their range in this country, which also houses more than 1.2 billion people.

Poaching remains an important issue of course, but the core problem is one that afflicts all wildlife in India: habitat loss. As the country's human population has grown exponentially in the past several decades, so have the anthropogenic pressures exerted on wild habitats. There has been a steady degradation and fragmentation of forest cover, with tiger territories increasingly being encroached upon for agriculture and infrastructure development. Tigers are increasingly found in human-use areas near forests outside of protected areas, making a strong case for protecting these corridors of movement.

READ: Plight of the Indian Tiger

A multi-pronged strategy followed by IFAW-WTI in India involves anti-poaching training for frontline forest staff, rescue and releases of tigers from conflict situations and engaging with local communities, upon whose support the long-term success of any conservation project hinges.

Our Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS) teams are involved in direct interventions to rescue wild tigers from potentially fatal conflict situations. Early last month, for instance, an MVS team assisted local authorities by tranquilising a conflict tigress that had attacked a fisherman near an educational institute in the north-eastern state of Assam. The tigress was captured after a two-day operation, transported to Nameri National Park and released into the wild the same night.

IFAW-WTI has had previous success with such interventions in north-eastern India. Six years ago, an adult male tiger that had attacked and killed two people in the Sivasagar district of Assam was tranquilised and captured by an MVS team. The tiger was translocated to Manas National Park and released; he was documented three years later as having successfully completed 1,000 days in the wild.

Breaking the illegal wildlife trade chain is another very direct way that we help to protect the tiger in India. From 2013 to 2015, IFAW-WTI field personnel helped enforcement agencies plan and conduct 14 undercover operations, resulting in 51 arrests and seizures of 1 tiger skin, 1 tiger trophy, 19 kilograms of tiger bone, 12 leopard skins, 21 leopard and lion claws, among other illegal wildlife products.

IFAW-WTI also assists local anti-poaching efforts by providing better field equipment and focused training in wildlife crime prevention to the forest guards that patrol India’s Protected Areas. These 'green soldiers' are at the forefront of the battle against wildlife poachers, yet they are an undertrained, under-equipped and largely under-appreciated lot. Thus far we have trained and equipped 7,099 frontline forest personnel, of which 6,677 are in tiger areas.

Sensitising communities around tiger areas may take the form of distribution of fuel-efficient cook stoves to reduce the biotic pressure and potential conflict caused by firewood collection on forest lands in Central India and Greater Manas.

Read: Efficient cooking stoves help preserve Indian tiger habitat

A popular rural sports event, to build awareness about tiger conservation, was organised earlier this month for village schools located in the critical Nazgira-Navegaon wildlife corridor in Central India.  

We have just learnt that the government of Maharashtra has issued a notification to designate this corridor as a buffer to the Nagzira- Navegaon National Park to provide unhindered movement to tigers, thus strengthening the case for creating more corridors for co-existence of man and wild.

--RGC

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