Why more tigers in India is good news for us all
25 Mar 2015 by Midori Paxton, Regional Technical Advisor, Ecosystems and Biodiversity, Bangkok
My first encounter with a wild tiger was pure drama.
I was on safari in India’s Nagarhole National Park and only a few minutes into our game drive, the forest erupted into bedlam. There it was, slipping effortlessly through the dry season undergrowth as everybody held their breaths in a spellbound silence.
But, once the safari over, I felt the pangs of loss. How much longer before this majestic creature is extinct?
Tigers’ decline has been catastrophic.
There were roughly 100,000 tigers in 1900. Poached for traditional medicine, hunted for sport and hounded by the destruction of their habitats this number has tumbled to just 3,200 in 2014.
Last month, for the first time in decades, tigers featured in some good news.
The Indian government announced an increase in wild tiger numbers from 1,706 in 2010 to 2,226 – a 30 percent bounce back.
These astonishing results didn’t come out of nowhere. India is the only country that has an official body, mandated to ensure the nuts and bolts of tiger recovery: regular population surveys, habitat and population monitoring, law enforcement etc.
India is taking a landscape approach.
To protect a tiger one needs to set aside areas strictly for nature protection, surrounded by a buffer zone with limited human influence. Areas are set aside for intensive agriculture, industrial use and other production activities so that the landscape as a whole with different zones can work for people and for nature. This is complemented by strong law enforcement to prevent poaching which by itself can decimate tiger populations.
Tigers bring tourism and, if done well with community development as a goal, it brings significant income for poor communities. I paid a lot to see my tiger! So did all the Indian tourists in my safari car.
Employment or tourism related service provisions such as guiding, accommodation, tours, market for local crafts and produce or simply buying snacks and drinks, batteries, clothes, this and that, at shops can in turn build strong buy-in for tiger conservation among local communities.
Further to the remarkable news of the population increase, the Indian launched a report estimating the economic value of India’s 6 tiger reserves at US$24 billion!
The experts took into account the monetary estimates of a range of ecosystem services including water provisioning, gene-pool protection, carbon storage and sequestration among other tangible and intangible benefits. Potential of employment generation and tourism had also been factored in while conducting the valuation exercise.
At UNDP, we currently support projects covering the major tiger landscapes in 8 of the 13 tiger range countries. India’s focused approach to tiger conservation – systematic creation of tiger reserves and application of landscape approach, increased patrolling and monitoring in the field, tried and tested technical knowhow - can offer important lessons and strategies for other tiger range countries.