Tiger range countries commit to course correction to take forward conservation

  • Tiger range countries gathered in Delhi to discuss course correction and steps that are needed to achieve the goal of doubling the global wild tiger population by 2022.
  • Policymakers and experts at the third international stock-taking conference on tiger conservation discussed issues plaguing tiger conservation like rising human-tiger conflict, loss of habitat, lack of prey base and funds.
  • The countries discussed that ‘a differentiated approach’ is needed to address the specific problems that differ from country to country. They also called for increasing international cooperation, especially among those tiger range countries which share borders.

As the clock is ticking towards the 2022 deadline for the Global Tiger Recovery Programme, 11 of the 13 tiger range countries met at New Delhi to take stock of their goal to double tiger numbers. The meeting revealed that rising human-tiger conflict, loss of habitat, lack of prey base and funds continue to remain some of the top challenges in pursuit of this goal.

Policymakers and experts opined that there is a need for an approach where each country can address their specific issues with enough international cooperation while still keeping the eyes on the larger goal.

In 2010, the St. Petersburg Declaration was adopted, where the 13 tiger range countries had resolved to double global wild tiger population by 2022. In 2010, global tiger numbers were pegged at around 3200. The goal of doubling tiger populations was touted to be the highest level of commitment to revive tiger populations.

Halfway toward the deadline of achieving over 6,000 tigers by 2022, a report in April 2016 revealed that after decades of constant decline, for the first time, the global tiger population increased. The report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a non-governmental organisation working for animal conservation and the Global Tiger Forum pegged the global population of tigers in the wild in 2016 at 3,890.

In India, as per the report, the tiger population was pegged at 2,226, which is nearly 60 percent of the total population. For India, the 2016 WWF report had taken into account India’s 2014 tiger estimation.

While the growing numbers have been received with much enthusiasm, scientists have pointed out that even with the upward growth rate, the goal of doubling the population by 2022 seems unrealistic. A 2018 assessment of the recovery potential of 18 sites across the global tiger range, while the potential to reach the target is not under doubt, the timeline of 2022 may not be achievable.

At the two-day conference, organised by India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in close collaboration with the Global Tiger Forum, an intergovernmental organisation for conserving tigers, highlighted the barriers towards achieving the goal.

Rajesh Gopal, who is the secretary general of the Global Tiger Forum (GTF), listed issues like reduction in forest cover, transboundary concerns, lack of land user policy, a decrease in core forest area, rise in human-wildlife conflict and decrease in prey base in core areas, while speaking at the event.

“What countries need to focus is on evolving a proper landscape management policy and developing wildlife corridors. Without looking at the larger picture, we can’t ensure survival and welfare of the tigers,” said Gopal.

Gopal, a retired Indian Forest Service officer, who also served as the member secretary of India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for several years, also said that to address human-tiger conflict, people living on the edge of forest needs to be roped in for ensuring that they understand the concerns of tiger conservation.

Global wild tiger population is rising but challenges to their conservation remain. Photo by Fitindia/Wikimedia Commons.

Explaining further, Mohnish Kapoor, who is GTF’s head for programme and partnerships, said that “a differentiated approach” is required as “there is need of a course correction for reaching the TX2 goal because each tiger range country is facing specific issues”.

“For instance, in Southeast Asia, tiger and prey base recovery is the main issue. But in South Asia (India and neighbouring countries), where tiger numbers are stable or increasing, but the habitat outside the core critical tiger habitat remains under stress, leading to human-wildlife interface issues in some areas, is a huge issue. This, needs to be addressed through a landscape approach. In this region, the major thrust needs to be on two issues – safeguarding tiger corridors and community engagement to enhance livelihood opportunities for people,” Kapoor told Mongabay-India.

Read the Mongabay-India story on the topic: Doubling tiger population by 2022 not biologically realistic.

India’s Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Harsh Vardhan, who was present at the event, said that “conservation of tigers is a duty which has to be meticulously pursued and more innovative ways need to be devised so that we can better the targets adopted by tiger range countries in 2010 at St. Petersburg, Russia.”

International cooperation for tiger conservation

It was emphasised at the conference that those tiger range countries that share borders will move towards bilateral agreements for tiger conservation and those with existing agreements will encourage active engagement.

For instance, India, home to the majority of wild tiger’s global population, already has an agreement with Bangladesh for addressing issues around tiger conservation area in the ecologically sensitive Sundarbans region shared by the two countries.

India is looking at signing similar agreements with Nepal and Myanmar. Gopal Prakash Bhattarai, who is deputy director general in the department of national parks and wildlife conservation in Nepal government’s ministry of forests and environment, told Mongabay-India that an agreement with India on tiger conservation and assistance is nearly finalised and is likely to be signed later this year.

Meanwhile, according to sources in the Indian government, a similar agreement with Myanmar is in the final stages and awaiting response from the Myanmar government.

The countries also discussed possibilities of exploring the scope for joint action in combatting trafficking across borders, joint investigation and extradition of offenders, carrying out status appraisal of tiger and its habitat in the border landscape, working out protocol for monitoring of wild animals in the transborder landscape while formalising the reporting mechanism, appraisal of stakeholder communities along border for possible livelihood options to elicit local public support for tiger and exploring the scope for transboundary protected area.

India and the neighbouring tiger range countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal also discussed the possibility of a sub-continent level tiger estimation report.

Thirteen tiger range countries have committed to doubling the global tiger population by 2022. Photo by Fitindia/Wikimedia Commons.

On the national level, actions for tiger conservation recommended included local community engagement and livelihood options in tiger landscapes, committing sovereign funding, adopting a macro landscape vision around tiger source areas with a focus on select portions of tiger habitat for revival of prey base, developing and institutionalising standard operating procedures for addressing human-wildlife interface and anti-poaching operations.

During the conference, the countries discussed that combating poaching and illegal trade could be possible by strengthening frontline forest staff, building partnerships for support and accelerating the flow of national and external funds for conservation. For instance, India’s NTCA member secretary, A.K. Nayak during his presentation at the event underscored that there is a currently a vacancy of 29 percent in the deployment of frontline staff which is being addressed by hiring contractual staff.

Tiger (Panthera tigris), which is an endangered animal, is India’s national animal and is among the wild animals that has the highest protection among country’s wildlife laws. At present, India has 50 tiger reserves in 18 states which account for about 2.21 percent of the country’s geographical area.

As per the 2014 tiger population estimation, there are 2,226 tigers in India while it was 1,706 and 1,411 in 2010 and 2006 respectively. However, in 2018, for the third straight year, the number of tiger deaths in India touched the 100-figure mark.

Banner Image: Rising tiger-conflict is also a major issue in tiger conservation in India. Photo by Harikrishnan18/Wikimedia Commons.

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