While increased protection has encouraged tigers to breed, it has also led to migration from the safety of reserves
On International Tiger Day (July 29), Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed that the government is committed to ensuring safe habitats for tigers and nurturing tiger-friendly ecosystems in India, home to over 70% of the world’s tiger population. The last tiger census (2018) pegged the big cat’s population at 2,967, marking an increase of about 30% compared to the 2014 report (2,226). In 2010, the tiger population was estimated at 1,706, while in 2006 it was 1,411. India’s tiger conservation journey started in 1973 with Project Tiger with nine reserves; today, it has 50 tiger reserves in 18 states.
The steady growth in the number of tigers and reserves happened because of State support; vigilance and conservation efforts by the forest department, especially its frontline staff; and the involvement of local communities that help secure forests and participate in ecotourism activities in many of the popular and revenue-generating tiger reserves.
However, challenges remain. While increased protection has encouraged tigers to breed, it has also led to migration from the safety of reserves. Once they leave the park, big cats encounter a different world. The government’s Management Effectiveness Evaluation of Tiger Reserves 2018 report shows that at least half of India’s 50 tiger reserves are facing threats from linear infrastructure such as roads, highways and railway lines, fragmented forest corridors, poaching, pressure of human-wildlife conflict, mining, improper garbage disposal, and pollution. This frenzied infrastructure development can impact the genetic diversity of big cats. At least 20% of the reserves are also threatened by invasive plant species such as Lantana camara, and about 20% of the reserves have unsustainable pressure from pilgrims visiting temples inside these. India has made progress but must remain acutely conscious of the need for tiger conservation.