A century ago more than 80,000 tigers roamed Asia. Because of trophy
hunting and habitat loss fewer than 4500 exist today. The newest threat is
poaching. Ironically, with economic success and prosperity in Asia, the
demand for traditional oriental "tonics" and "remedies" using body parts
of endangered species has skyrocketed. A live tiger is precious and
priceless, but to them a dead tiger is worth $100,000. The Chinese revere
the strength and power of the tiger, but are "revering the tiger to
According to the Fall 1997 Western Canada Wilderness Committee
newsletter, "China has hunted the South China tiger from an estimated
population of 4,000 in the 1960s down to a pitiful 20 today." Pressure has
switched to the Bengal tiger, whose numbers have dropped from 30,000 after
World War II to less than 3,000 today. It is estimated that China is
importing 300-400 poached Bengal tigers a year from India, and Korea
another 200-300 from India and elsewhere. The situation is indeed alarming
and the sooner remedial measures are found the better it is.
Why save tigers ?
The Tiger is a beautiful animal. But that is not the only reason we
should save it. It is time to realise that when you save the Tiger, you
save the forest and in turn secure your food and water security. The Tiger
cannot live in places where trees have vanished. In such places, the rain
becomes a flood, killing people and destroying homes. It takes away the
precious soil, leaving behind a wasteland. The soil jams up our lakes and
dams, reducing their ability to store water. By destroying the Tigers'
home, we not only harm Tigers, but also ourselves.
There is a very direct link between saving Tigers and saving ourselves.
The Tiger thus is the symbol for the protection of all species on our
earth, from the tiniest mosquito to the largest elephant, from birds and
flowers to crocodiles and frogs. This is why we call the Tiger an apex
predator, an indicator of our ecosystem's health.
When the British left India, it left behind a Forest Service which
looked after the huge forest areas of India. Every politician of
independent India made this service subservient to the Indian
Administrative Service and Indian Police Service. According to well known
Tiger expert Valmik Thapar, "As far as dedication and commitment by forest
officers to protection is concerned, they require a political clout, the
political assurance that someone is interested in them. That is going to
happen only when there is a dedicated Ministry and a dedicated Police
Before Project Tiger was launched in 1972 there was no effective mechanism
in India to govern wildlife and forests. Project Tiger is a project of the
Ministry of Environment and Forests. This project survived and was
successful because we had people like Indira Gandhi and Dr.Karan Singh
spearheading. They believed it was important to save India's forests and
Tigers and they had political clout. If something happened in a national
park or to a tiger, there would be a flurry of phone calls from the Prime
Minister or Cabinet minister. So that era witnessed a success in terms of
the Project. \
Today, the Project has no power over state governments. It has
become akin to a Bank, it disperses money and that's all. The Panning
Commission allocated Rs.16 crores ( USD 4 million) to Project Tiger at
last count. This money goes to 27 Project Tiger Reserves. The Director of
Project Tiger passes cheques after examining proposals from the states. He
can advise but he has no powers. " Project Tiger needs to be reformed and
restructured in the 21st century" says Valmik Thapar.
Meanwhile, many organisations and well meaning people have come forward
and are working dedicatedly to save the big cats. Consider the case of
Anthony Marr, a Canadian who is working with WCWC . With a grant from CIDA,
Marr is helping Kanha National Park in India safeguard its tiger reserve.
In a land where women must walk several kilometres to collect firewood,
90,000 villagers living in the buffer zone surrounding this park eye its
potential fuel and grazing land with envy.
"The park is like a feast laid out on a table surrounded by hungry
people who are forbidden to touch," says Marr.
The solution? Look after the people so that they will look after the
tigers. Partnered with Tiger Trust India, the project is setting up free
medical clinics and schools, building community bio-gas plants to show a
practical alternative to firewood, and developing training and education
programs for park guides and visitors, as well as village teachers,
students and their families. "The result will be more than just a change
in local people's attitudes towards tigers and parks. It will include a
changed, more sustainable way of life. "Marr believes that no one should
have the privilege of lack of responsibility. "What excuse will we give
our children if we stand by, do nothing, and watch the wild tigers go
Today in India we have people of the stature of Valmik Thapar, Kailash
Shankala and Billy Arjan Singh all of whom have single-handedly championed
the cause of saving the big cats. No one has done more for the Indian
Tiger than Valmik Thapar. Thapar has provided new glimpses into the
striped animal's obscure behaviour. Holding the distinction of being the
first Indian to present a documentary on the BBC on Tigers, Thapar has
spent more than 25 years tracking tigers and trying to preserve their
population. Director of Ranthambhore Foundation, Thapar is also on the
committees of many organisations.
Tiger Tracking :
Tracking Tigers is not all fun and excitement; often it is about as
thrilling as land surveying - painstaking map and compass work. But there
are rewards for entering the secret world of Tigers. Adult tigers are
solitary animals that establish their territories in areas with enough
prey, cover and water to support them. The difficulty of locating prey in
tiger habitat makes it more efficient for tigers to hunt alone. As a
result, they do not tend to form social groups like lions. A female tiger
and her cubs are the exception to this, and will form a family group for 2
to 3 years, until the cubs are able to fend for themselves.
The territory of a tiger usually ranges in size from about 10 to 30
square miles (26-78 sq. km). The size of a tiger's territory depends on
the amount of prey available. Tiger territories are not exclusive. Several
tigers may follow the same trails at different times, and a male's
territory usually overlaps those of several females.
Both male and female tigers spray bushes and trees along their route
with a mixture of urine and scent gland secretions. This is a way of
declaring their territory. They also leave scratch marks on trees, and
urinate or leave droppings in prominent places.
Even in areas of prey abundance, the tiger has to work hard for its
food since all its prey species have highly evolved systems of
self-preservation which the tiger must beat. The regulates, the hoofed
herbivores, which constitute the main food of the tiger, have a highly
developed sense of smell and reasonably keen senses of sight and sound.
Whether living singly (as a sambar does) or in herds (like the chital,
nilgai and gaur), they are constantly vigilant as they move, forage or
rest. Herd security and leadership is provided by the matriarchs who keep
a close watch while the herd is foraging or resting. They constantly shift
their muzzle to face the breeze in order to catch scents and funnel their
ears in different directions to catch sounds. On apprehension of danger,
the first alarm is signaled by stamping a forefoot. If on further
assessment, the danger seems real and imminent, a vocal alarms is sounded.
Finally, the matriarch provides the lead and the herd drifts, scampers or
It is true that there are many problems facing forests India. Saving
the Tiger involves making difficult decisions, decisions we have been
putting off for 20 years. It also means relocating forest - dwelling
peoples in a more humane fashion and abolishing timber and other forest
product exploitation from critical Tiger habitats.
It may be a dream, but I hope some day India will have an exclusive
service fashioned after the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. This is
a formidable force supported by a fleet of vehicles including helicopters
for patrolling. They have all the necessary surveillance equipment,
weaponry and most important, the funds to support their activities.
If we act rationally and deploy our resources wisely, there is still time
to save the Tiger.