The deplorable state of the Bengal tiger has been a matter of dispute for many years now. While the government and park authorities live in denial, it is a serious problem in India. More tigers are being lost to poaching every year and with natural deaths adding to the total, the number of tigers in the wild are at a dangerous low. At this rate, experts say, the tiger will be extinct in the next 20 years. With different figures coming from different agencies, the last known tiger population stands at 1,411 (2008).
After years of denial by the government, the forest department and authorities of various tiger reserves of India, Minister of state for environment and forests, Mr. Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday confessed that out of the 38 government-monitored tiger reserves, 12 were in good condition, 9 were satisfactory and 17 were in a “very, very precarious state” though not mentioning how many tigers were at risk.
“You could have a Panna or Sariska in any of these 17 tiger reserves at any point of time”, he said, referring to the two well known tiger reserves which lost their tiger populations.
According to a special panel setup by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006, the main problem are the human settlements inside the reserves. There are a total of 1,00,000 villages in India’s 38 tiger reserves today. These poor villagers help poachers and smugglers in return for some much needed cash. They also cut down forest land to use as farmland.
Although the government has paid compensation to the uprooted families, they are often re-located to under developed areas where they can not make a proper living. Out of the 1,00,000 families only 3,000 have been re-located so far, Ramesh said, adding, “It is not enough to give them money, we have to provide livelihood security for them.”
Another thing India needs to do is strengthen policing along it’s borders with Nepal and Myanmar to control the illegal trade of animal parts, Ramesh said. The government is also putting pressure on China to phase out it’s tiger farms, which operate in violation of international agreements and fuel the demand in India.
Interpol has estimated the illegal wildlife trade at more than $20 billion a year. Tiger parts, everything from whiskers to eyes and bones are used in traditional Chinese medicine and the tiger fur is also highly valued in the black market.