I was going through some videos documenting the plight of Bengal Tigers in India featured on Discovery Channel on World Environment Day and I really started thinking in earnest: Can India's tigers survive against the huge odds stacked against them? Do they really stand a chance against rampant poaching, habitat destruction, loss of prey and killings by villagers? Nearly a century ago there were over forty thousand tigers in India. True many were hunted by Westerners and Indian lords decades ago but India still had thousands left at the time of its independence in 1947. Still they continued to be shot down by anybody who owned a rifle and could buy a bait to attract the tiger. Villagers grazing their herds through forests ensured that the natural prey of tiger starved to death and thus so did tigers. As a result, by early 1970's less than two thousand tigers remained in the jungles of India.
Fortunately for the striped sufferer, the Indian prime minister at that time, Indira Gandhi, took action and founded Project Tiger, to save her country's most valued asset from total extinction. For the next two decades there was a lull and tigers flourished under renewed protection in designated reserves. As a result their numbers reportedly increased to four thousand. But that was all to change in the nineties. Tiger poaching picked up. Organized gangs took advantage of the inherent laziness and corruption that ran through the ranks of park rangers and officials. As a result, tigers started disappearing. Some of the most well known, photographed and magnificent animals faded away. Some reserves like the famous 'Sariska' reserve, just a couple of hours drive from the Indian capital New Delhi, protected by three hundred rangers, was wiped clean of its dozens of tigers. Similarly tigers began vanishing from internationally renowned parks like Ranthambore and Kanha, visited by thousands of tourists yearly from around the world!
While all this was going on and calls were being made by respected scientists and conservationists like Valmik Thapar and Belinda Wright to urgently protect the tiger, the stubborn administration of Project Tiger, relying on obsolete methods of tiger counting like pug mark identification, continued to deny that any tigers were missing. To admit the truth would have revealed their incompetence and possible complicity in the widespread killing of tigers. Thereafter newer initiatives have been taken by the Indian government and newer guidelines created, further weakening the power of tiger preservation organizations of India. In an obvious attempt to secure more votes from people in future elections, politicians are now trying to facilitate people back into tiger reserves, bringing further catastrophe to the delicate ecosystems of India's shrinking tiger reserves.
The problems that tigers face are many. First is the issue of poaching that continues unchecked owing to the negligence of underpaid, ill-equipped, outnumbered and unfit forest guards. Laws protecting the wildlife are weak and law enforcers are predominantly corrupt. Furthermore there is a huge demand for tiger skins and parts in China, Far eastern Asia including Hong Kong, Thailand and Burma, and Tibet. Each individual tiger can bring hundreds of dollars to the poor villagers and people of India, many of which live at under a dollar a day.
Then there is the issue of human encroachment into tiger territory. Indian economy is expanding and population is increasing. It already has around one billion people and is set to become the most populous country in the world in coming years. Farmers and villagers are living at the borders of, and often right inside, parks. They graze their herds through jungles resulting in the depletion of natural food for the ungulates of forests that are chief components of a tiger's diet. As a result the starving tigers take to attacking cattle and at times humans. This brings them into conflict with locals who take no time in poisoning partially eaten tiger kills. When the big cat returns to feed upon the carcass, it dies.
Thirdly and perhaps most importantly is the apathetic attitude of Indian administration. It is clear that despite the hue and cry being raised around the world on the plight of tigers, authorities in India have little interest in saving the Bengal Tiger from extinction in the wild. No concrete and long term measures are being taken by the somewhat decentralized government while tigers continue to be slaughtered in most of the so-called 'protected areas' of Indian tiger reserves. In the end, this may prove to be the final nail in the coffin of the Bengal Tiger.
All of this brings one to a single rational derivation - do tigers really stand a realistic chance in India? The latest census reports a total figure of around fourteen hundred animals. Nearly two hundred and fifty animals are being killed yearly. So in all probability, at the current rate of extinction, the Royal Bengal Tiger will be lost forever from Indian wilderness in the next decade. Unless of course there is a miraculous turn around in the way that conservation efforts are being run by Indian government. Unless a completely honest and dedicated approach is adapted, this most splendid of animals will be gone in the next six to eight years.
Obviously it will continue to be featured in zoos around the world. Acting as a spectacle for the human race. Rewilding projects will be talked about, planned and even possibly undertaken but will certainly be near impossible to conduct on a large scale. If the people of India don't wake up now to save their most sublime asset, they must realize that they will lose it forever in the blink of an eye. The lord of the jungle will continue to die silently from snares, pellets and poison in the forests where it once used to burn bright.
There was no sound; he gave no cry,
The careless stars looked on serene.
The jungle's sudden tragedy
Remained unheard, unknown, unseen.