The growing numbers of the national animal may be at risk due to mining, poaching and domestic animals in India’s tiger reserves.
India, home to 8% of the world’s biodiversity and 70% of its tiger population has seen a positive increase in tiger numbers since 2006. Multiple efforts including government intervention through Project Tiger (National Tiger Conservation Authority) have helped restore Tiger numbers from a dwindling 1,411 to the current 2967. Between 2006 and 2019, the rate of their population growth has gone from 21% to a respectable 33%. The population of this animal is protected by 50 different tiger reserves across the country. Currently, Madhya Pradesh holds the maximum number of tigers at 526 followed by Karnataka and Uttarakhand at 524 and 442 respectively. Out of this, only 65% of India’s tigers can be found within tiger reserve boundaries. However, latest information suggests that these numbers are at risk of dropping once again.
The economic slowdown due to the corona virus outbreak has forced the government to boost the mining sector’s activities to regain economic momentum. While the move may prove beneficial to the economy, a direct impact of the activity seems to fall on India's national animal. Many mines are located close to, if not within tiger reserves. Scaling up the activities would mean the operation would rake in more area from the reserve, essentially destroying the tiger’s natural habitats and encroaching on existing tiger corridors. A 2018 report released by Environment Minister, Prakash Javadekar said,
“Most of the corridor habitats in India are not protected areas, and are degrading due to unsustainable human use and developmental projects.”
Camera trap images across multiple tiger reserves have also shown the presence of other factors affecting tiger population. Poachers still remain a threat to the animal with the Environment ministry receiving visual evidence of poaching activity and animal foot traps. New reports suggest poaching activity has seen an all time high, going up 151% during the lock down. Thirty five poaching cases were registered across the country between February and March. This number went up to 88 cases between March and May, not including poaching cases that may have gone unnoticed. The number of poaching arrests have also seen a steep spike from 85 before the lock down to a staggering 222 during the period. The cases are at a rise despite Forest wildlife protection staff being exempted from lock down restriction. Jose Louies, Deputy director and chief of wildlife crime control division at Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in an interview told the Times of India,
“Within the parks, patrolling has not been a problem. But in fringe areas there are people who are jobless and animals often stray out. Both are enablers of poaching.”
Another growing problem posing a threat to Tiger populations is the presence of feral dogs and free ranging livestock in tiger reserve territory. Camera traps used in the All India Tiger Survey captured more free ranging domestic dogs than tigers in 17 tiger reserves. Images of livestock were captured in 30 tiger reserves across the country. According to experts, the presence of domestic dogs and livestock in wildlife territory poses a threat to wild animals as there is the risk of transmission of disease within the forest. These animals also compete with their wild counterparts for resources. The Environment Ministry officials claim that the domestic animals were spotted mostly in the peripheral forests, away from the core. National Tiger authority member secretary S P Yadav said in a statement,
“ Livestock and dogs are found in certain fringe areas close to villages. In view of threats such as canine distemper virus, etc. We are trying to minimize the interaction between these domestic species and wildlife.”
It almost seems like the pandemic has not only taken a toll on humans but also India’s wild animals. While authorities devise methods to keep threats to wildlife at bay, it is not far fetched for a growing tiger population in the country to see an undesirable drop or stagnation in numbers.