Maneesh Pandey – Sonalee Borgohain, India Today, June 4 2017
For many tiger lovers wandering across India’s 50-odd national parks to get a glimpse of the majestic big cats without success, there is good news. Next opening of the park gates may bring to you a louder roar of the felines.
If the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the apex body formulating policies for the conservation of big cats, is to be believed, then the next tiger census due in 2018 is set to show a “significant rise”. The last census done in 2014 put the tiger number at 2,226 and this is set to touch 2,600 or more by the 2018 tigers census, says NTCA chief Dr Debabrata Swain. “Going by the estimated annual growth of 6-7 per cent of tigers being added to current population and the same being corroborated by the ongoing field census by our experts and scientists on ground, about 2,650 tigers could be a reality in 2018,” says Dr Swain, who is also the additional director general of Project Tiger.
A top NTCA insider explained the encouraging trend. “We conduct the phase 4 exercise towards the end of every census done once in four years, the last was done in 2014. We have fairly good scientific and tech-enabled evidence gathered from the ongoing study, which started in October 2016, showing a possible significant rise in tiger population and there are certain reserves showing proof of ‘sizeable big cats population’ by next census due in 2018.
The official, requesting anonymity, told Mail Today, “While the Nagarhole, Bandipore and Biligiri Rangaswamy Tiger (BRT) reserves in Karnataka throw ample evidence of many being added to current numbers, some significant rise is expected from Manas in Assam and Pench in Madhya Pradesh. While Pench, which had about 40 tigers at last count will show up 50-odd and in Manas, where it was about 13-14, will show at least 22 to 23, or more by then.”
Maharashtra, for instance, which counted about 190 tigers last will cross 220 in the next census. The NTCA study to complete the census is still on and that is why the estimates at Corbett, Kanha and Bandhavgarh, all very popular in the itinerary of tiger lovers, cannot be made. However, NTCA members say that these reserves will also see rise in numbers as Ranthambhore and Kaziranga.
The tiger numbers will also get a boost with NTCA moving ahead with repeating the success of Panna and Sariska national parks in at least four national parks – Buxa in West Bengal, Mukundra Hills in Rajasthan, western Part of Rajasthan in Rajaji National Park and Satkosia in Odisha. “We left female and male tigers in the ratio of 3:2 and 5:3 in Sariska and Panna and today we have 14 tigers in Sariska and about 42 in Panna. Both these tiger reserves have shown ‘zero’ in the census. Now we are going ahead with Buxa in West Bengal first, for which the plan is ready and we will get 2 males and 3 females from Assam’s Orang reserve, which has currently the highest density of tigers. We have also finalised for the western part of Rajaji Park, where we also plan to leave tigers in same ratio to breed and add more big cats there. We have about 25 to 30 tigers in the eastern side of Rajaji, but their movement gets obstructed due to Haridwar city in between and disturbances caused by railway line cutting through the two sides,” the NTCA officer said.
The plan is also to breed tigers in Naxal-infested Palamu Tiger Reserve in Jharkhand where currently there are only two tigers left.
However, more big cats also mean more human-tiger conflicts and the latter’s killing by villagers and poachers. “Indian tiger reserves cannot hold beyond 3,000 tigers, there have been 59 deaths this year alone and nearly 122 deaths in 2016. Only a few die a natural death, we need to think in future for our big cats,” Dr Swain concluded.