What Is Being Done To Protect/manage Tiger Populations?


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Over the past century the number of tigers in India has fallen from
about 40,000 to less than 4,000 (and possibly as few as 1,500).
Relentless poaching and clearing of habitat for agriculture have been
the primary drivers of this decline, though demand for tiger skins and
parts for "medicinal" purposes has become an increasingly important
threat in recent years.

However the news is not all bad. Research published last year
showed that if protected and given sufficient access to abundant prey,
tiger populations can quickly stabilize. With India's large network of
protected areas and continued funding from conservation groups like the
Wildlife Conservation Society, the findings provide hope that tigers
can avoid extinction in the wild.

Camera trap shot of a tiger in India's Nagarahole National Park. Photo by you. Karanth/Wildlife Conservation Society.

Now a new study offers further evidence the tigers can be saved.  Writing in the journal Biological Conservation,
a team of scientists showed that parks in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan,
and Nepal can sustain nearly twice the number of tigers they currently
support if small conservation measures are adopted.

Dr. K. Ullas Karanth, a leading tiger expert and one of the
authors of the study, answered some questions about the recent findings
as well as the overall state of tigers in India.

Mongabay: What are the biggest threats to tigers in India?

Dr. K. Ullas Karanth: The biggest threat to tigers in India
is depletion of their chief prey like deer, wild pigs and wild cattle
by local people. As a result although about 300,000 square kilometers
of tiger habitat still remains, much of it is empty of tigers because
there is not enough food for them to survive and breed successfully.

Mongabay: Your
new study suggests that tigers can be protected within relatively large
and suitable parks but what about the bulk of reserves that are too
small to support tigers?

Dr. K. Ullas Karanth: What the new study shows that the
bigger chunks of empty tiger forests in north-east India need urgent
improvements to even reach "reasonable management" in protected areas
that we have assumed in the study. The much smaller deciduous forest
reserves in south and central India of 500-1000 square kilometers size
can actually hold very high densities of tigers under reasonable
management. At this point in time, it is these mid sized reserves in
Western Ghats, Central India, Terai and Assam that hold most of the
tigers in India.

Mongabay: How
can these tigers co-exist with people in human-dominated landscapes?
Wouldn't there be conflict? How is WCS working to address this issue?

Dr. K. Ullas Karanth: It depends on how you define a "tiger
landscape" for coexistence. Tigers can coexist with people if the
landscape is defined at scale of the country, region, state or
district. However, if we insist on forcing such coexistence in clusters
of breeding populations inhabiting a few hundred square kilometers in
conservation priority areas, there will be severe and perennial
conflict and tigers will eventually be wiped out as a result; people
have votes and tigers don't. WCS's strategy is primarily to ensure such
cores are protected against hunting and that people within them are
compensated fairly and adequately to move out. At wider landscapes, WCS
works with all partners and stake holders to address human needs while
ensuring the cores are protected uncompromisingly. And unlike many
others, we believe in rigorous monitoring of results by counting tigers
using best possible methods.

Mongabay: What's
the best way to encourage more Indian students to pursue a career in
wildlife conservation? And do you have any advice for young aspiring

Dr. K. Ullas Karanth: I think the best way is to create more
opportunities in the real world for trained conservationists and
conservation scientists. At present, both in the Government and the
non-governmental sectors, the conservation field filled with people who
are professionally untrained and are as a result offering and
implementing "seat of the pants" solutions, many of which don't work.
Secondly, conservationists must learn to independently function as
small NGO groups without looking for government doles and jobs.

Mongabay: How can the general public help save tigers?

Dr. K. Ullas Karanth: By not just being interested and
concerned (which they often are), but by learning more, understanding
issues and supporting the right solutions. Above all, by not succumbing
to the gloom and doom prophesies about the tigers that have been
flooding the media for the last 10 straight years.. There is much to be
done and this not the time to throw up your hands and whine.

About Dr. K. Ullas Karanth

Dr. K. Ullas Karanth, who has studied tigers in India since the
1980s, is the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society India
Program. Karanth has authored three books on tigers and dozens of
scientific papers. He is based in Karnataka, India.

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