Until a few years ago, the long-term prospects for the survival of the tiger, India’s national animal, seemed bleak. The shock of the discovery that Sariska National Park in Rajasthan had been emptied of the majestic animal stunned the country. That was followed by a spate of reports, with alarming regularity, of its poaching across different locations. That bleak assessment has not come to an end. But on Monday, the first glimmer of hope was delivered with the release of the estimates of tiger population for 2010.
For 2010, the population estimate for the tiger—defined by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) as a reliable statistical estimate— climbed to 1,706 from 1,411 in 2006. This number has gone up in three of the five tiger habitats/geographic regions of the country. In one region— central India and Eastern Ghats—the estimate has remained constant at 601. This is a critical region where, especially in Rajasthan and parts of Madhya Pradesh, tigers have been under stress. In the fifth region—the difficult Sundarbans area of West Bengal—estimates for 2006 are not available. Even more hopefully, the upper limits for the tiger population have been estimated at a higher level than 2006. While the latter number may be rosy, it makes for good reading even if it is on paper.
Two caveats are in order here. For one, these are estimates, and are liable to go wrong. And as MoEF’s Status of Tigers in India 2011 report indicates, it is difficult to get the exact number of cats in the wild. Difficulties in terrain coupled with a low density of the cats over a vast area make estimation difficult. Proponents of scientific measurement (radio collaring all or majority of tigers) forget the magnitude of the task involved.
Second, it should not be forgotten that this is a mere count, a statistical presentation of results. The actual reasons for the higher numbers of the big cat require a careful study of these numbers before any valid conclusion—the success of conservation efforts, better management of tiger reserves and, most importantly, the ending of poaching—can be inferred. These happy numbers should not remove our attention from the serious problems at hand in saving a part of India’s identity.
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