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…If India hopes to be home to 1,500-5,000 more tigers | India News – Times of India

In 1973, when the ‘Project Tiger’ was launched, the country’s tiger count was 1,827. Fifty years down the line, there are nearly 3,000 tigers — an average annual rise of 1. 34%. Even as the increase does not seem phenomenal, experts say India can ideally hold between 1,500-5,000 more tigers.
“India can possibly accommodate another 1,000-1,500 tigers, mostly in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and in the North-East states of Arunachal and Mizoram. Habitat is available, however, a lot of protection and prey-base restoration will be required,” says YV Jhala, biologist and former dean of Wildlife Institute of India (WII).

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Jhala says work in this direction is yet to begin as resource allocation and site-specific policies are major limiting factors. “An increase in tiger numbers in other areas is likely to result in enhanced conflict with humans. The most important conservation strategy in India has been incentivised voluntary relocation of villages from tiger reserves, which benefits both humans and wildlife. Resources for this are declining. A lot of villages are ready to move out but funding is not available,” says Jhala.
Raghu Chundawat, a conservation biologist working for tigers and snow leopards, says, “The 2018 NTCA report says 50% of the tiger reserves are underperforming. The density in 18 tiger reserves is below one tiger per 100 sqkm. In four reserves they did not find any evidence. So, if all perform satisfactorily, India can have 4,000-5,000 tigers in tiger reserves alone. ”
If other protected areas (PAs) and tiger habitats are included, Chundawat says, India can be home to at least 10,000-15,000 tigers. “But it needs a complementary inclusive conservation model beyond boundaries to achieve this,” he says.
There is consensus among experts that India can hold more than 5,000 tigers. However, NTCA officials say a projection of 10,000-15,000 tigers in India is inaccurate. Based on scientific data and simulation for a viable tiger population, a minimum inviolate area of 800-1,200 sq km is required for a viable population of tigers (20 breeding tigresses). An ecologically sensitive zone (buffer, coexistence area, multiple use area) of 1,000-3,000 sqkm is required around this inviolate space for sustenance of dispersal age tigers, surplus breeding age tigers, and old displaced tigers. “Not many PAs in the country have this advantage,” they say.
Aditya Joshi, a wildlife biologist with WCT, points out that there are several states where long-term interventions to bring back wild prey densities in existing PAs, along with securing potential forest blocks, can provide viable habitats. Joshi observes that if action is taken in all tiger-range states, India can support thrice its current tiger population.
Increasing the tiger population cannot be achieved without protecting corridors. “Tiger is a long-ranging species and based on genetic data we now know that tigers can disperse over 600km. Studies have shown that the extinction rate of tigers in small PAs can be reduced by 70% by securing adjacent forest areas and corridors,” Joshi says.
A handful of PAs and their surrounding forest divisions account for most of India’s tigers. However, the future of tigers is in securing habitats to maintain connectivity. The ability of tigers to inhabit new areas will be governed by the extent of anthropogenic pressures, the quality of habitat, and prey densities outside PAs.
Jhala reiterates that tiger density, like in all other carnivore populations, is determined by the num-
Tigress fromber of prey and carrying capacity. “Additional tigers will disperse or die by density-dependent factors. As our tiger reserves near carrying capacity, we would need to manage these dispersing tigers going into an agriculture-human population landscape — a recipe for man-animal conflict,” he says.
Even after 50 years of Project Tiger, numbers have always remained debatable for tiger conservation in India, as per wildlife conservationist Prafulla Bhamburkar. “Project Tiger was basically launched to stop trophy hunting to secure the future of the charismatic species. Now, poaching, electrocution, monoculture plantations, and linear projects lead to isolation of tiger populations and threaten their healthy gene pool. ”
More importantly, India has only three viable populations in the world which have over 500 tigers. These are Western Ghat (Sathyamangalam, Bandipur, Nagarhole, Madumalai, Cauvery, Bandipur and Wayanad); Central India (Achanakmar, Kanha, Pench, Satpura, Betul and Melghat); and Shivalik-Terai (Rajaji, Corbett, Ramnagar, East-West Terai, Haldwani, Pilibhit, Dudhwa, Katarniaghat and Kishanpur).
“Barring a few, the tiger distribution status and numbers remain unchanged in large reserves like Corbett, Kaziranga, Ranthambore, Pench, Kanha, Melghat, Bandhavgarh, Tadoba and Bandipur which are now source populations. The real challenge is to protect tigers at the landscape level, by avoiding encroachments and linear infrastructure,” says Bhamburkar.

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