London, Dec.8 (ANI): Stephen Mills, a writer and film-maker who has spent over two decades watching tigers and other big cats in the wild, believes initiatives by the Indian government, and growing awareness by local people in tiger areas of the need to conserve the animals, offer new grounds for optimism in what has been a remorseless decline over the past 40 years.
There may now be as few as 4,000 tigers left in the wild from a world population estimated at 100,000 a century ago.
Destruction of their forest habitat, clashes with local communities, and ceaseless hunting - not least for tiger bones to be used in traditional Asian medicine - have been the main drivers of a decline which seemed to slope towards extinction.
The Independent says in its report that the steepest decline has been in India, traditionally thought of as the heartland of the tiger's range, where until recently it was estimated there were nearly 4,000 animals.
But results of a thorough scientific census published late last year gave a figure of 1,411 tigers remaining across the subcontinent.
Project Tiger, the nationwide conservation effort set up by India in 1973, was then deemed a filure, but according to Mills, a census taken under this project, offers the basis for a new beginning in Indian tiger conservation.
"We should not see the census results as a measure of decline, but rather as an accurate count for the first time. When they were published, it was the first time since the launch of Project Tiger 35 years earlier that we had a count of tigers done on a scientific basis, and results which would be stuck to by government scientists and conservationists, and could form the basis of action," he says.
The census itself provides the way forward, he adds.
"For the first time, government scientists and conservationists are in agreement," he writes. Second, Mills points to efforts to identify new tiger habitat, led by the wild cat protection organisation, Panthera, headed by the celebrated American biologist Alan Rabinowitz.
Third, he notes that efforts to engage local communities with tiger conservation are beginning to bear fruit. Fourth, Mills takes hope from the stability of the world's largest single tiger-breeding population, the 500 Siberian tigers of the Russian Far East, and finally, he notes there is reduction in the demand for tiger body parts. (ANI)