The number of tigers in India has increased by 6.74 per cent from 2,967 in 2018 to 3,167 in 2022, according to the figures of the 5th cycle of India’s Tiger Census, which was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an event in Karnataka’s Mysuru to mark 50 years of ‘Project Tiger’ on Sunday (April 9).
The PM also released the government’s vision for tiger conservation during ‘Amrit Kaal’, and launched the International Big Cats Alliance (IBCA). IBCA will focus on the protection and conservation of seven major big cats of the world, including tiger, lion, leopard, snow leopard, puma, jaguar and cheetah, with membership of the range countries harbouring these species.
“It has been 50 years of Project Tiger. Its success has been a matter of pride for not only India but the entire world. India has not only saved the tiger but has also given it a great ecosystem to flourish. It’s a matter of great happiness for us that at a time when we have completed 75 years of Independence, nearly 75 per cent of the world’s tiger population can now be found in India and tiger reserves in the country span 75,000 square kilometres. This has been possible because of everyone’s efforts,” Modi said during his address.
Project Tiger was launched by the Central government on April 1, 1973, in a bid to promote conservation of the tiger. The programme came at a time when India’s tiger population was rapidly dwindling. According to reports, while there were 40,000 tigers in the country at the time of the Independence, they were soon reduced to below 2,000 by 1970 due to their widespread hunting and poaching.
Concerns around the issue further intensified when the same year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the tiger as an endangered species. Two years later, the Indian government conducted its own tiger census and found that there were only 1,800 of them left in the country.
To tackle the problem of hunting and poaching of not just tigers but also other animals and birds, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promulgated the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972. A year later, after a task force urged the government to create a chain of reserves dedicated to tiger preservation, Indira unveiled Project Tiger.
Launched at the Jim Corbett National Park, the programme was initially started in nine tiger reserves of different States such as Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, covering over 14,000 sq km.
Notably, Project Tiger didn’t just focus on the conservation of the big cats. It also ensured the preservation of their natural habitat as tigers are at the top of the food chain. While inaugurating the programme, Indira, in a statement, said, “The tiger cannot be preserved in isolation. It is at the apex of a large and complex biotope. Its habitat, threatened by human intrusion, commercial forestry and cattle grazing, must first be made inviolate.”
Soon after, the number of tigers in India began to rise and by the 1990s, their population was estimated to be around 3,000. However, the success story of Project Tiger suffered a major setback when the local extermination of tigers in Rajasthan’s Sariska made headlines in January 2005.
This led then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to set up a task force “to shape the future of tiger conservation even before seeing his first tiger — the famed Machhli of Ranthambhore — in May 2005.,” The Indian Express reported. Around a year later, the government reconstituted Project Tiger and established the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
“The NTCA had more power to check poaching and preserve the tiger population. Its mandate included setting up the Tiger Protection Force and funding the relocation of villages from the protected areas.,” wrote V P Singh Badnore, former Governor of Punjab and Administrator, Union Territory of Chandigarh, for the newspaper.
Today, there are 54 tiger reserves across India, spanning 75,000 sq km. As mentioned before, the current population of tigers in the country stands at 3,167 as opposed to 1,411 in 2006, 1,706 in 2010 and 2,226 in 2014.
Speaking to PTI, Additional Director General of Forests SP Yadav, who is also the member secretary of the NTCA, talked about the future of Project Tiger and said, “The goal would be to have a viable and sustainable tiger population in tiger habitats based on a scientifically calculated carrying capacity. I’m not putting a number (to it) as we cannot increase the tiger population of the country at the same pace because that will result in an increase in conflict with human beings.”