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International Tiger Day: Can India afford to have more tigers?

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New Delhi, July 29: Nearly a decade since 13 tiger range countries came together in St. Petersburg, Russia owing to double the big cat population

by 2022, their goal seems nowhere in sight.

In fact, India's effort to protect tigers is in some ways a victim of its own success.

International Tiger Day: Can India afford to have more tigers?

Take for instance, a disturbing video shot in the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve of Uttar Pradesh recently, showed the local villagers brutally trashing a six-year-old tigress. It is believed that the tigress has injured nine people and hence the villagers decided to kill the animal.

The killing of the tigress happened five days before the World Tiger Day that is marked on July 29 every year. Ironically, the day is celebrated with the slogan 'Their survival is in our hands'.

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Such incidents unfortunately are neither new nor surprising across the tiger range states of India.

Sustaining tiger population

There is no doubt India's Project Tiger has been successful in preventing the decimation of the species. But sustaining and growing tiger populations are the next big challenge.

India had launched Project Tiger in 1973 to conserve tigers.Till now, the coverage of Project Tiger has increased from nine reserves to 50 tiger reserves spread across 18 states.

At the time of deliberations, India's tiger estimate stood at 1,411, which after the third cycle of the All India Tiger Estimation 2014 has reached 2,226.

Tigers need large habitats as they have high juvenile dispersal rates. But growing human populations and careless development are curtailing this, confining tiger populations to certain pockets.

Fear of overcrowding

Although, rise in tiger numbers may be a good reason to cheer, but this likely increase is concerning as many tiger reserves are already beyond carrying capacity. Also, there is huge pressure on areas outside tiger corridors due to development projects.

According to the NTCA, India's maximum tiger capacity with respect to the available area of tiger reserves stands approximately at 3,000.

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With dwindling core forest as well as the shrinking of tiger corridors, there were several challenges alongside the traditional challenges of poaching and man-animal conflict to India's success at tiger conservation. In addition India's attempts at trans locating tigers to underpopulated reserves, such as Satkosia in Orissa, has hit a deadlock.

However, K Ullas Karanth, director, Centre for Wildlife Studies has repeatedly advocated that the potential carrying capacity for tigers in India at 10,000 to 15,000, not the 3,000 we already have.

"When tiger recovery efforts began 50 years ago we had about 2,000 tigers.. If after all this effort and expenditure, we are satisfied with just 3,000 tigers, it points at a serious management problem," says Ullas Karanth.

India has 70 per cent of the world's tiger population.

In 2010, at St Petersburg, Russia, the heads of governments of Tiger Range states, which includes India, resolved to strive to double the number of wild tigers (T X 2) across their global range by 2022.

They had signed the St.Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation, which also decided to celebrate July 29 as Global Tiger Day.

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