Doubling tiger count by 2022 realistic goal

The World Bank is keen on funding a tiger recovery programme in the countries where the big cats still roam free today – including Russia, China and India – with the motive of doubling the count. India has so far turned down World Bank's money and expertise for conservation, but 13 countries came on board, at a recent "tiger summit" in St Petersburg hosted by Russian premier Vladimir Putin. Dr Y V Jhala, senior wildlife biologist at Wildlife Institute of India, who was part of India's delegation, tells Sudeshna Chatterjee that the Russian forum may mark a significant turn.

At the Global Tiger Recovery Program, it was pledged to double the number of wild tigers from around 3,200 to 7,000 by 2022, the next year of the tiger according to the Chinese lunar calendar. How hopeful are you of that target?

The Tx2 goal is a catchy phrase to attract global attention of funders and leaders. However, for tiger conservation, it is more important to consolidate existing source populations through strict protection. Once this is achieved, we should strive to enhance the quality of the habitat that connects several breeding tiger populations. Yes, the tiger numbers can be doubled within the stipulated timeframe. The goal is realistic. In India, we have more than 300,000 sq km of tiger habitat, of which only 93,000 sq km have tigers.

Some tiger reserves like Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh), Simlipal (Orissa), Palamau (Jharkhand), Sanjay and Panna (Madhya Pradesh) and Achanakmar (Chhattisgarh) are below their carrying capacity. Good management, protection and increase of prey can easily double or treble the number of tigers in these reserves.

What is the outcome of the Russian forum?

The national leaders of the Tiger Range Countries adopted the Global Tiger Recovery Program by endorsing it. The GTRP consists of National Tiger Recovery Plan of each range country, which spells out the details of how each country will achieve its committed goal of tiger conservation along with the financial requirements to implement it. There is a pledge to raise funds to the tune of $350 million to be paid by rich countries such as Germany and US and agencies like World Bank, Global Environment Facility and World Wide Fund for Nature. The figure is very encouraging, though there will still be a significant amount of deficit.

How important is this forum for tiger conservation?

For the first time ever, commitment at the highest national level was convened to discuss the saving of one species other than humans.

Has there been any change of attitude in countries like China which is a major market for tiger body parts?

China and South East Asian countries are the major consumers of tiger body parts – this is the primary reason for the endangerment of the tiger. Initially, when the Global Tiger Initiative consultations began in early 2009, Chinese delegates were quite unwilling to even consider that China was a problem for tiger conservation. Gradually, I believe the Chinese attitude has become more positive and their government is now taking stringent steps to curb poaching and illegal trade in tiger parts.

Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina has called for international support to declare Sunderbans one of the new seven wonders of the world. Do you think it can help in increasing the tiger population in the Sunderbans of both India and Bangladesh?

The increased tourism may bring in more revenue to the region. If this money becomes available to the conservation agencies, then it could assist tiger conservation in the region.

What is the state of funding in India?

The Centre spends about Rs 300 crore a year for tiger conservation that includes a lucrative incentive of Rs 10 lakh per family for voluntary relocation out of core areas of tiger reserves. This is over and above the state funding for staff salary, infrastructure and other costs. I believe India invests the maximum in tiger conservation, compared to any other country in the world. The Planning Commission of India has assured a sum of over $1 billion over the next 5 years to meet this expenditure. This is a significant commitment towards conservation since the tiger serves as the umbrella species for conservation and it can only survive in a forest if the entire ecosystem is intact and functioning naturally.

THE TIMES OF INDIA   Dec 3, 2010

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