The Tiger..and other animals

Today In Mongabay, (February 12, 2013) there is an article which titles :Tigers gobble up 49% of India’s wildlife funds, other species get nothing.

The tiger is NOT ‘gobbling’ up money for other species-we need to increase the outlay, focus and attention to other endangered species, not undermine what the the tiger gets. that’s dangerous thinking. It has taken a lot of effort, struggle and battles to get the tiger its due…as the other species MUST get too. 



My answer is here, in an article previously published in The Pioneer, 29th September, 2012


“Don’t you think there is too much attention on tigers, that they are hogging the limelight, while other animals, equally endangered,  suffer?”  asked a journalist. It’s not new…this idea that somehow the space taken up by the tiger––not physically, but in the heart and the conscience; in law and in policy––is somehow denying other, equally endangered, but perhaps less charismatic species their due.

My answer, after considerable thought is No.

Of course, the tiger hogs media spaceIt’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing. Editors want ‘tiger news’, because it is sexier, because the ‘people who matter’ are interested, because it is high profile––hence every time a tiger dies, lives, mates, hunts, especially if it is in an equally high profile ‘park’, it gets Page One.

Ele_with calf_corbett_webHowever, I digress.

That the tiger gets a bigger share of the pie is another lament. It’s true. Financially speaking. Under the 11th Plan, India’s 600 odd Protected Areas received a sum of Rs 450 crores. Compare it to the Rs 600 crore given to Project Tiger  for 41 tiger reserves.

But no one, including committed conservationists–struggling, battling to get ‘their’ cause due attention favour the tiger being compromised with, or that the pitch for it be weakened, financially or in any other way. We ask instead to strengthen the conservation of other endangered species, to give them equal focus, sufficient funds.

Project Tiger was never meant to protect all endangered species. What it aimed for, given that the tiger is the apex predator, was to provide a protective umbrella for the flora and fauna in their reserves that represented varied biodiversity.
The first nine tiger reserves-though primarily (and obviously!) chosen because they were tiger strongholds-were, as the great naturalist M Krishnan put it,  “They were widely separated and  quite dissimilar in their terrain and flora, and even in their faunal features”.

In that lies the key success of Project Tiger. The fact that the habitats demarcated as Tiger Reserves have escaped––largely, and by tremendous effort––the  axe, the plough, the dynamite. Kanha has given shelter to the hardground barasingha, and Corbett with its 600 bird species is renowned as an ornithologists’ mecca.  Paradoxically, the tiger too flourished in Kaziranga (it got ‘tiger reserve’ status only recently in 2006, long after it became a success) because another endangered species, the One Horned Rhinoceros, was the focus of the state.

Another question: Is a focused programme like Project Tiger useful and successful in its objective? There are detractors, and I have been a severe critic as well, given the fortunes and otherwise of the tiger in the turbulent 40-odd years since its inception.  We saw the carnage wrought by wildlife trade in the ‘90s, the shame of  tigers going extinct in Sariska and Panna. Tragically, the slaughter continues––the image of a tiger’s hacked body strewn next to Tadoba is symbolic of how our tigers––in spite of their exalted status––are sitting targets.

Yet, there is little doubt that such a focused project has served its purpose. That tiger reserves remain, that tiger populations have stabilised (while still vulnerable) and that some reserves––Nagarahole being a prime example––saw a resurgence of tigers, thanks to the legal and policy framework provided in the 1970s, reinforces this fact. This, in spite of a booming population and the consequent pressure on resources, expanding agriculture, the intensive and extensive demands for infrastructural and industrial growth, sagging political will and a frayed sincerity of purpose.

However, the mere existence  of a project does  not serve the purpose. Project Tiger is fortunate as its foundation rests on strong political commitment and able leadership both at the national and the ground level. The success of the project is a function of strong political will, able leadership, engagement with outside experts and committed NGOs backed by sound science, public pressure.

Just having a focused project alone doesn’t do the job, as unfortunately, can be witnessed in the case of Project Elephant. Thirty-two elephant reserves (less than 30% of which is protected) got a mere Rs 82 crore in the 11th Plan––most of which is doled out for compensation for human-elephant conflict. Most recommendations of the Gajah Task Force are gathering dust, and despite the Project, and being a National Heritage Animal, the elephant is orphaned.

Yes, there is a definite need to for species-specific focus to cover deserts, grasslands, high altitude habitat,  coasts, marine ecosystems, wetlands-habitats beyond the realm of the tiger.  And this must be tackled urgently, as bustards, dugongs, hangul, floricans, vultures, wolves  and other rare species hover on the brink. There is a species recovery programme focusing on critically endangered species, but their efficacy, or otherwise, is the subject of another column.

But what is more important is to back such efforts by sufficient funding, sound science and  most importantly, a will to conserve.


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