Nimli (Rajasthan): India’s tiger reserves are now completely saturated and the government needs a plan to manage excess tigers to minimise the risk of human-animal conflict, according to a wildlife expert.
In July last year, the Narendra Modi government had announced that India’s tiger population had increased by 33 per cent since the last estimation.
According to the government’s report prepared by scientists at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the country has an estimated 2,967 tigers — which is about 70 per cent of the global tiger population.
However, Qamar Qureshi, a scientist at the WII and one of the authors of the report, said the time has come to stop thinking about increasing the population of tigers, and instead focus on how to manage the abundant tigers that are likely to venture out of protected areas and put surrounding human population at risk.
Qureshi said this while speaking at the Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) annual ‘Anil Aggarwal Dialogue’ — a three-day conclave that began from Sunday in Nimli, Rajasthan.
“Protected tiger areas are completely saturated. There is no space for more tigers. Adding any more tigers to those areas will lead to human-tiger conflict,” Qureshi said at the conclave.
“People keep talking about doubling tiger numbers by 2022, and there are unrealistic ideas that we should strive to raise the tiger population now to over 5,000 — but India does not have enough protected forest areas for more tigers,” he said.
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‘Need to build tiger corridors’
India has a total of 50 tiger reserves in India, spanning an area of 71,027 square kilometres.
Of this, only 40,340 square kilometres is the core tiger habitat, while the rest of the area are ‘buffer’ forests.
These buffer or peripheral forests are those that help create a distance between human settlements and tiger habitats. If tigers start inhabiting the peripheral areas, the chances of them venturing into human villages will increase.
“What we really need now is to build tiger corridors that would allow these animals to move from one reserve to another without interference,” Qureshi said.
Such movements allow the genetic gene pool of the animals to remain diverse as different populations of the tigers mate with each other. In the absence of such movements, the animals of the same area will indulge in-breeding, making them more susceptible to illnesses.
On the govt tiger’s data
Asked to respond to the allegation that the tiger report had exaggerated numbers, Qureshi said it was an exercise to come out with an estimated number.
“The word ‘census’ creates an impression that we have an exact count of tigers. It would be better to call this report an estimation. We estimated that the number is between 2,603 and 3,346 after taking into account possible errors,” Qureshi said.
None of the methods used to estimate wildlife population is exact and we are constantly making improvements to our methods, he said.
Qureshi added that fellow scientists are welcome to take a look at the data and the methods. He also said the WII is open to criticism and constantly improving on its counting methods.
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