Time to Kill the Tiger?

By Dr. Suhas Kumar

The other day a decorated professor shouted from the rooftop- ‘allow the hunting of tigers and wild animals outside the national parks. The same war cry is often heard from a lone crusader, who used to be a renowned brother from the forest fraternity, who wishes to kill tigers as soon as they wander out of the safe confines of a tiger reserve.The hunting advocates are sanguine that killing tigers and other wild animals is the only way to save them from extinction as killing that animal would bring in dollars that, according to advocates of trophy hunting, would protect the wild animals. So straight forward and impressive.

Like the marauding East India Company, the proponents of hunting see wild animals as unexploited resources.They also consider wild animals as dangerous pests and their arguments are entirely anthropocentric bereft of any ecological considerations and oblivious to the ground realities in present-day India. Why the professor calls himself an ecologist is a mystery.

No religion teaches want on killings of other creatures, and no religion preaches killing for greed and profit or just for an adrenalin rush, but people tend to infer their own meanings and continue to destroy the earth and oppress its inhabitants.

They fail to see the whole picture

The consequences of ecological illiteracy and deliberate apathy driven by greed for votes and money are evident worldwide. Now, the ugliest manifestation of human greed and apathy is visible in the mountains. Joshi Math and many other hill cities will vanish into the abyss in a few years. Why? Because the ecologically illiterate and indifferent economists, engineers, bureaucrats, and politicians ignored the red flags waved by sensible and knowledgeable individuals and government and non-government organizations. The Himalayas are formed by the sediments and detritus from under the Tethys Seaand the fragments of the Indian and Asian plates that were pushed and folded into the Himalayas when the two plates collided some 40-50 million years ago., hence it is fragile and unstable – too much interference with this sensitive mountain may unleash unprecedented natural disaster. The signs of ecologically insensitive development have already begun to manifest themselves- in the sinking of land, floods, and massive landslides. The same callousness is visible in dealing with wildlife. There is a myopic view of the issues plaguing wildlife conservation in India. Instead of taking a holistic view, some people are advocating a shortcut that is surely going to turn the clock back to the 1950s.

The argument against tigers is that they are dangerous animals because they kill people. I wonder, are they dangerous? I think roads and vehicle drivers are a thousand times more dangerous than the poor tiger. Responding to Lok Sabha question during the monsoon session, 2023 the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway informed that around 18 people die in road accidents every hour in India, (i.e. 432 people per month). While the tigers kill around 100 people in a year largely in self-defence when threatened or disturbed. Only a few become man-eaters but that is an aberration, not the rule. We too have occasional serial killers in human societies but that does not make all human beings, monsters. Any tiger that has been proven guilty after a thorough investigation must be punished but others who are not guilty must not be made scapegoats. Unfortunately, despite the protocol, there are no sincere investigations as there is always a hurry to declare innocent tigers guilty of murder. As many notified tiger reserves in the country have no tigers or are inhabited by an unviable population of tigers there is ample scope for intra and inter-state relocation of tigers. Besides many states still have enough usable tiger habitats, these areas need to be mapped and secured by notifying them as any category of PA acceptable to the local people and translocating adequate prey species from some tiger reserves and farmlands. In M.P. there are total undisturbed huge habitats (645 sq. Km) like the proposed Onkareshwar national park and areas like Lagur in Blaghat, besides several areas that have been recently identified and mapped using GIS technology.

So, there are adequate habitats where tigers roaming in hostile areas may be rehabilitated. M.P. has also been proactive in making territorial forest officers responsible for wildlife in their respective jurisdictions. From the range officers to the CCFs all are notified wildlife wardens for their respective areas. The state has also created a separate budget head for wildlife management outside protected areas. The state government has made provision for an annual review of all forest circles to assess their contribution to wildlife management. In a proactive state like M.P. vigorously campaigning for killing tigers and other wild animals is totally out of place.

Starting with just 1827 tigers in 1972, after more than 16 years of Project Tiger, India achieved the maximum number of tigers in 1989- the estimated population then was 4334. Despite the growing number, there was no advocacy to permit trophy hunting then. After that, the tiger population was on a downslide once again, and by 2005 tigers vanished from Sariska and in 2009 from Panna. The all-India tiger estimation done by WII in 2006 reported just 1411 (1165-1657) tigers in India. What caused the decline is known to all – those factors were unbridled poaching all over the country orchestrated by an organized mafia, severe loss and fragmentation of tiger habitats, and ecologically unsound or indifferent development projects that took a toll on the wild habitats and corridors and the growing cities began eating up the forests, thus these days tigers are a common sight in the cities that have some degree of connectivity (corridor) to the natal area where tigers still breed (e.g. Bhopal).

In the current times, the number of tigers has gone up in select tiger reserves in some tiger-bearing states, where zealous efforts have been made to control poaching and secure tiger habitats. There is also an additional focus on protecting tigers and their habitats beyond the tiger reserve boundaries in territorial forests. Madhya Pradesh has created a separate budget head for protecting and managing wildlife beyond protected areas. Systematic relocation of villages from core critical habitats in tiger reserves to create inviolate spaces where tigers can breed, helped tigresses to litter and raise cubs within the secure reserve’s boundaries undisturbed. The young and old tigers dispersing from the natal areas soon reach human habitations as the cities and villages have expanded eating into the forests. As the tiger does not vote no one is on its side. If the absurd idea of killing tigers is implemented, within six months the government will be forced to set up Tiger Task Force III. And we may have to borrow tigers for introductions from Siberia like we are doing now with cheetahs from Africa.

It is a pity that we first extirpate a species and later fall into deep bereavement, lamenting our follies. And then we launch another project to bring back the species or in its absence a distant relative. The Introduction of Cheetahs in India and Canadian northern gray wolves in the USA are befitting examples.

Each species has an important role to play and the reintroduced wolves have restored the degraded Yellowstone ecology and its river system by effectively controlling the large herds of elks that prolifer ated in the absence of wolvesand severely impacted the vegetation (90 % of Wolve’s diet comes from elks). I wonder why human memory is so short-lived and why we are incorrigible. Once I heard a hardcore supporter of hunting telling a group of people that there is no need to have tigers or leopards as humans can very well perform the role of predators. How dishonest! Tigers mind their own business if not persecuted. The tigers of Bhopal are examples. The restraint shown by the public and media of Bhopal is another example of a sensible reaction to tiger presence in a city that has intruded into the tiger habitat. The calm that the media, the public, and the forest department maintained in handling the situation when two tigers began frequenting the campus of Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology within the city of Bhopal, shows their maturity. (One of the visiting tigers was captured and rehabilitated in Satpura Tiger Reserve, it is doing well there and is christened ‘Engineer’ as it was brought from a technology Institute, the other tiger went back to the forest and the breach in the boundary wall was closed). On the other hand, what happens in some other parts of the country is the exact opposite. First, the dispersing tiger is disturbed and chased by locals, pelted with stones, then the tiger retaliates, injures, and kills people. Such an innocent tiger is declared maneater. Then, a huge team of forest personnel is sent after the poor tiger, and after a long chase and several months later the tiger is killed.

The last all-India estimate (2018) tells us that there are around 2967 tigers in the country much less than what it was in 1989. Therefore, there is no reason why we should dance with joy over the current tiger number and start killing tigers or offer them to foreigners for trophy hunting

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