By Jay Mazoomdaar & Abbinaya Kuzhanthaivel
India’s tiger population has jumped to an estimated 2,967 (2,603-3,346), an incredible jump of 110% over 1,411 recorded in 2006, according to the all-India estimation, ‘Status of Tigers, Co-predators, Prey and their Habitat, 2018’, released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday.
“It was decided in St Petersburg that the target of doubling the tiger population would be 2022, we achieved it four years in advance,” the Prime Minister said. “I feel it is possible to strike a healthy balance between development and environment. In our policies, in our economics, we have to change the conversation about conservation.”
India estimates its tiger population every four years. In 2014, 2,226 (1,945-2,491) tigers were estimated in the country. The present estimate records a 33% jump in four years.
One significant aspect of the latest estimation is the capture of 2,461 individual tigers — 83% of the total estimated 2,967 — in camera-traps. This limits the scope of extrapolation and potential bias or flaws in the process.
In comparison, only 1,540 unique tigers — 69% of the total estimated population of 2,226 — were camera-trapped in the 2014 estimation.
The increase in tiger photos is due to the much wider deployment of camera-traps during the present estimation exercise. For the 2014 estimate, only 9,735 camera-trap points were used. This time, the coverage increased by 275% to 26,838 camera-trap points.
A worrying aspect of the report is the continuing loss of tiger-occupied areas. While net occupancy remains stable at 88,000-89,000 sq km, tigers relinquished over 40,000 sq km since 2014.
Since they also colonised over 25,000 sq km in that period, the report computes the net loss in tiger-occupied area to be 17,881 sq km or 20% of the tiger habitat in four years. This explains the shrinking presence of tigers outside tiger reserves.
In fact, there is bad news from tiger reserves as well. Against the 33% jump in the national tiger population, the report recorded potential extirpation of tigers in three reserves. No tiger was recorded in Buxa (West Bengal), Dampa (Mizoram) and Palamu (Jharkhand) tiger reserves.
None of these reserves, however, was rated ‘poor’ in the Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) report also released Monday. While Dampa and Palamu have been rated ‘fair’, Buxa scored an impressive 63.84% which returned a ‘good’ rating.
Based on the report of the Tiger Task Force appointed by the then Prime Minister in 2005 following the extirpation of tigers in Rajasthan’s Sariska, the Environment Ministry moved on from pugmark-based census to a scientific camera-based model developed by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), in collaboration with the State Forest Departments, Conservation NGOs and coordinated by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), has been conducting a national assessment for the “Status of Tigers, Co-predators, Prey and their Habitat” every four years since 2006.
Dr Rajesh Gopal, secretary general of Global Tiger Form, the inter-governmental international body said, “The scale and magnitude of the assessment is unparalleled globally. The outcome demonstrates ongoing concerted efforts from the federal, state governments and collaborators.”