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Protect and Respect: Let's bring back the Roar this Global Tiger Day

www.travel.economictimes.indiatimes.in | July 29, 2021

Being one of the world’s most densely populated countries, there are increasing numbers of human-wildlife conflicts in India. Today, as we celebrate Global Tiger Day, let's try to create and maintain opportunities where tigers and humans can co-exist together peacefully and respectfully in the same landscape.

For the first time, in 2010, July 29 was dedicated to celebrate Global Tiger Day and to raise awareness about these majestic species for their protection, conservation and habitat management. WWF (World Wide Fund –for Nature) aims to double the number of wild tigers worldwide by 2022, also known as TX2.

The year 2020 has been quite successful for Indian tiger conservation. Success stories include inaugural WWF TX2 award given to Pilibhit Tiger Reserve and Manas Tiger Reserve; India’s adoption of the CA│TS (Conservation Assured│Tiger Standards) framework; translocation of tigers from Corbett to Rajaji National Park to repopulate the tigers there. This year a sharp increase in tiger population has been observed in poaching-infested and insurgent-rampaged Manas Tiger Reserve. In a remarkable achievement, from no tigers in 1991, it now boasts of 48. Scientists, conservationists, forest officials, policy makers, non-profit institutions are contributing to this goal. One area which still threatens tiger protection is human-wildlife conflict.

There are 50 Tiger Reserves across India which account for about 65per cent of the world’s total tiger population. A recent report by WWF and the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) released in 2021 reaffirms that human-wildlife conflict is one of the greatest threats to the conservation of different species. To get an idea, according to the Central Government of India's data, more than 1,608 humans were killed in human-wildlife conflict cases involving tigers, leopards, bears and elephants between 2013 and 2017. The main ideological and pragmatic conflict is between conservation of tigers while upholding human interests.

Human wildlife conflict is a real problem in India. As one of the world’s most densely populated countries, there are increasing numbers of human-wildlife conflicts in India. With increasing development projectsand creation of settlements, tiger habitats and their connected corridors are shrinking aggressively. At the same time, anthropogenic pressures such as population growth, improved life expectancy, poverty and unemployment also threaten tiger conservation. As a result, tigers lose their space to roam and are often illegally hunted and traded for their body parts for economic incentives.

Recently, I watched Sherni, the movie. The movie reminded me of my fieldwork memories - my experiences with camera trapping with a team of WII (Wildlife Institute of India) researchers or inspection of waterholes with the rangers in Rajaji National Park or more recently, tiger sighting during safari while on a second-year research trip to Bandhavgarh National Park.

What’s portrayed in the movie is powerful and compelling. The politics among stakeholders, self-interest, greed for money and power. It is interesting to note how each group sees and responds to the man-eating tiger’s existence in their vicinity. As portrayed in the film, the political leaders use the tiger invading their villages as an agenda to fight and win the local elections- to appease the locals and gain their votes, hunters want to use this opportunity to kill an innocent tiger for glory, forest officer plants teak saplings to fulfil his duty while few villagers and junior forest officials run against time to save the tigress and her cubs. Socio-cultural drivers play a significant role in obstructing law enforcement.

No matter how easy it looks on the surface, it’s a quite complex problem as noted in the movie. Whether to save the tigers at the cost of the human lives or vice versa? Whether to save environment or improve human lives through development goal? Human fatalities often result in retaliatory killing of tigers.

No one is denying that human lives are not important. But so is a tiger’s life. We have objectified tigers for utilitarian reasons. We have commodified tigers, reduced it to a commodity for which we pay sometimes hefty amounts to see (legally or illegally) at national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Most of us who have been to a national park have been more excited by a tiger sighting. Even though we don’t agree with the unethical way of some guides. We don’t consider our trip to national park successful unless we see a tiger.

Tigers have been existing since more than 5000 years agoand have the right to protection and right to habitat to thrive. Like humans, tigers also have specific behaviour, senses, emotions and lived experiences. There is an urgent need to empower and respect the magnificence of this beautiful non-human species. Numerous examples across India reveal increasing human-wildlife conflicts – when wildlife such as tigers or elephants enter and destroy farms and crops and kill humans, thus increasing fear among the local communities. As a result, local people escape from their responsibility towards tiger conservation efforts.

Successful tiger conservation, in its truest sense, can occur only when the local communities partner in this effort rather than being an adversary. To achieve this, more than community sensitisation, it is necessary for the locals to be tolerant towards the tigers in regions with existing tiger population. More action concerning an attitude change towards the tigers is required at the local level in the surrounding forest villages. To this end, availability and dissemination of information related to tiger conservation at local level need to be accomplished. For instance, in the movie,a group of young students called Forest Friends were taught about the significance of tiger conservation and they helped in saving the tiger cubs in the end.

However, what we can improve on is to create and maintain opportunities where tigers and humans can co-exist together peacefully and respectfully in the same landscape.

- Prof. Abhineety Goel, Assistant Professor - Environmental Studies

*Views expressed are personal.

(Source: https://travel.economictimes.indiatimes.com/speakeasy/global-tiger-day/5030)