'Not many reasons to be happy for tigers'
New Delhi, July 29: With over 10,000 tigers including other big cats in captivity globally, rampant tiger poaching in India, shrinking green-corridors in Asia and three sub-species extinct, experts see "no happy times" for the feline on International Tiger Day on Friday.
"There were some 100,000 tigers a century back, now there are around 3,000 to 5,000 (in the wild), depending on who you ask. So, these are not happy tomes for the tigers," Joseph Vattakaven, Tiger Conservation Advisor, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) told IANS.
Still, there are some positives for India, which has over 50 percent of world's tiger population (1,945 to 2,491) and other central Asia countries where the population is sustaining.
"There are rampant cases of poaching, offcourse," he added.
The International Tiger Day was started in 2010 at the St. Petersburg Tiger Summit, with the aim to double the population by 2022. While 2016 is the mid-way of the deadline, a rampant hike in crime and specific targeting of tigers for "medicine, skin and soup", is the biggest challenge.
As per the Wildlife Protection Society of India, about 28 of tigers had been poached by April this year, while 25 were reportedly poached in 2015.
About 97 percent of tigers had been poached worldwide since the last century, despite several the conservation efforts. Three sub-species -- Balinese Tigers, Caspian Tigers and Javanese Tigers -- out of nine are extinct.
About 40 tiger cubs were found dead in a Thai temple in June.
The United Nations Environment Programme and Interpol last month reported that the environmental crime industry -- worth $258 billion -- was the fastest growing among crime syndicates.
Meanwhile, the rising in number of tigers in captivity in China and the US is another major threat to the conservation effort of this Asian big cat.
As per Debbie Banks of the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency(EIA), China has about 5,000 tigers in captivity, raised in different tiger farms and culled as food and medicine.
Meanwhile, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) keeps the number of "backyard tigers", including other big cats like lions, puma, leopards and panthers at over 10,000.
"The number could be more. They could be well between 10,000 to 20,000. Many a time, when people can't keep the big cats, they kill them or free them, exposing people to danger" Vattakaven.
The activists are thus demanding the US to pass the "Big Cat Public Safety Act" that would prohibit people from raising the big cats as pets.
This is on the agenda at COP-17 CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to be held at South Africa this year.
"The USA should check its backyard before pointing fingers at others, specially China," Vattakaven said, adding that for countries like China, more education and awareness is needed as killing of tigers for medicine is a traditional mindset, which needs to change.
On a positive note, the tiger population has also increased and come on par with the historic density. Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, for instance, now has about 17 tigers in its 100 sq km. At the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, the population density is 15 to 16 tigers per 100 sq km.
India today has about 250 tiger reserves while at the beginning of Project tiger in 1973 there were only 19.
Speaking on the positives of the India, experts felt a lot has been done, but it's clearly not enough.
"A lot is needed to be done in terms of increasing infrastructure. Can't simply send guards with sticks in hand to face better equipped poachers," said Sunayan Sharma, a former Forest Officer and a Rajasthan based Wildlife conservator.
Sharma also pointed out the menace of extreme tourism in the forests, leading to behaviorial changes among animals.
He said that the "Flight-Distance", a term used by conservationists to define minimum safe distance to observe an animal in wild, is being "breached in some national parks like Ranthambore by the tourist lobby resulting in a change in behavior of the tigers.
"The reason behind the one such death of the forest guard in 2015 was because the same breech in Flight Distance," Sharma pointed out.
On the positive side, the New Delhi this April hosted the Third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for protecting the species.
"To do that, all the 13 tiger range countries would have to take a strong stance against enemies of wildlife," said V.P Singh of the Tarai Nature Conservation Society.
The recent arrest of a notorious wildlife trafficker in Delhi (whose father Sansar Chand left Sariska "tiger-less") could be a good start.