|'Project Tiger didn’t adapt to changing scenario'
Thursday, January 13, 2011
a magnificent creature, is one of the most culturally important and
beautiful animals on earth. The big cats - most important constituent
of the ecosystem - are facing the threat of extinction due to unabated
hunting for the greed of money, despite global conservation efforts.
Many say by hunting tigers humans are doing nothing but digging their
India, once home to 40,000 tigers, now has just
1,498 big cats left, according to a 2008 report by the National Tiger
In an exclusive interview, Belinda
Wright, one of India's leading wildlife conservationists, shares her
views with Biplob Ghosal ofZeenews.com on several issues ranging from
Project Tiger’s incapability to adapt to the changed scenario to
illegal trade and poaching of tigers.
Belinda Wright founded
the Wildlife Protection Society of India in 1994. The organisation
helps avert India's wildlife crises by providing support and
information to combat poaching and the escalating illegal wildlife
Biplob: The last Census revealed a significant decline
in the number of tigers. How do you rate the Project Tiger launched by
the government three decades back? Can India still save the tiger or is
it already too late?
Belinda Wright: When it was launched in
April 1973 – which is nearly four decades ago - Project Tiger was
considered one of the most ambitious wildlife conservation projects in
the world. As a result of Project Tiger, huge tracts of forests were
declared protected areas and received special funding. The tiger was
the focus but all the other species in its domain also benefitted.
is no doubt that Project Tiger is one of the main reasons why wild
tigers still survive in our forests today. Unfortunately, in the past
couple of decades, Project Tiger did not adapt to or even acknowledge
the changing scenario and consequently, it did not take timely action
to stem the growing problem of poaching and human-tiger conflict.
Ground-level protection and enforcement and implementation of The Wild
Life (Protection) Act were also very lax and this resulted in tiger
numbers declining, once again.
But it is certainly not too
late. If we can curb tiger poaching and the poaching of the tiger's
prey species, if we can stem tiger-human conflict and if we can stop
the encroachment of tiger habitat, then yes, the tiger can be saved. It
is not difficult for this species to make a comeback; if tigers are
given enough space, food and water, they breed well and multiply
Biplob: What steps should the government take to save
the magnificent creature? Should the shoot-at-sight orders in place in
Kaziranga be implemented across the country’s reserves?
Wright: The Central government finally started to wake up to the fact
that the tiger was in dire straits in 2006. The combination of the loss
of all Sariska’s tigers in 2004, the August 2005 expose of the tiger
skin trade in Tibet by WPSI (Wildlife Protection Society of India) and
EIA (Environmental Investigation Agency), the August 2006 CAG report on
the management of tiger reserves, and the August 2007 preliminary
report of the government-sponsored tiger Census, all came as a shocking
The government has now greatly increased funding
and is making a sincere effort to be proactive. Various steps are being
taken to improve the protection and management of our tiger reserves,
and to secure their boundaries. What we need now is the same acceptance
and political will from the state governments. Unfortunately, the
states are still more driven towards projects aimed at financial gain,
rather than tiger conservation.
The shoot-at-sight orders in
Kaziranga have proven to be very effective in curbing the poaching of
both tigers and rhinos. However, before similar efforts can be made in
other parts of the country, the field staff needs to be mandated to use
arms, and they need to be trained, equipped and motivated.
Biplob: Illegal trading of tiger parts is rampant in India. Can you throw some light on this illegal business for our readers?
Wright: The illegal trade in tiger parts is indeed widespread in India,
and no wild tiger is really safe from this menace. What we must keep in
mind is that almost all this trade is fuelled by a demand for tiger
parts from outside India’s borders; i.e. from other countries such as
Analysis of information in WPSI’s wildlife crime
database reveals an alarming scenario. Although some poaching incidents
are one-off or driven by human-tiger conflict, many are part of large
organised networks of poachers, traders and smugglers. These networks
are controlled by city-based masterminds who are seldom linked directly
to the illicit goods.
The severity of the problem was first
brought to light when investigations carried out in 1993-94, led to the
seizures of 36 tiger skins and 667 kg of tiger bones in northern India.
The illegal trade has now spread its tentacles throughout the country
and is in the hands of ruthless, sophisticated operators.
tiger can be killed for as little as Rs 40 for the cost of poison, or
by using a reusable, inexpensive steel spring trap. Much of the tiger
poaching is done or assisted by tribal people who know their forests
well, and their hunting talents and knowledge are often exploited by
others. Although poachers are now paid well, it is the middlemen and
traders who make the most profits from the illegal trade in tiger
Biplob: Will the Green India Mission, meant to enhance forest cover, benefit in conserving the tigers?
Wright: Tigers are hardy animals and good breeders. If they are given
enough undisturbed space, and if we can stop the encroachment of tiger
habitat, then we will be a step closer to saving the tiger.
the Green India Mission can successfully enhance India’s forest cover
in areas around protected areas, then this will benefit India’s tiger
conservation efforts. But more important than additional forested
areas, we must first ensure the effective protection and management of
our current protected areas.
Biplob: How can wildlife tourism co-exist with tiger conservation programme?
Wright: Wildlife tourism should be seen as one of the tools through
which effective conservation can be undertaken. There are many reasons
for this. Apart from providing livelihoods and income for local
communities, the presence of tourists acts as a major motivation force
and a monitor for management and protection measures being implemented
by the forest department. It is also a fact that in areas that have no
or low tourism, poaching cases are higher as poachers can roam freely
through these protected areas without fear of being spotted or caught.
By default and because of poor enforcement, tourism is currently
playing an important role as a protector of wild tigers.
it is imperative that wildlife tourism is also managed and closely
monitored. Visitor numbers must be limited and wildlife resorts must be
made to practice responsible wildlife tourism and conform to
environment-friendly norms. In some areas wildlife resorts are already
blocking wildlife corridors, depleting water resources, purchasing
illegal head-loads of wood, and creating noise and rubbish.
resorts are there because of the wildlife, and wildlife conservation
and the well-being of the protected areas must always be paramount.