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Why the elephant must be India's national animal



Valmik Thapar, Hindustan Times (Opinion)
May 29, 2015

A debate has recently started in the country about replacing our national animal — the tiger — with the lion. Before we proceed further into the touchy topic, we must look at the impact this tag has had on tiger conservation, and if such fancy labels at all help to protect such endangered species.

Nearly 45 years ago, a similar debate was sparked off when Member of Parliament Karan Singh suggested to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that India’s national animal should be the tiger and not the lion.

Some believed that Singh’s suggestion was based on the fact that his pet’s name was ‘Tiger’. But that was not the case; Singh truly felt that the ‘national animal’ tag would help the endangered tiger to get a new lease of life.

That was the beginning of the Project Tiger, a focused scheme to save this species. By 1972, the tiger became our national animal. Today we have nearly 2,200 tigers and nearly 500 lions in the wild. Irrespective of this VIP status, India’s tiger population have fluctuated over the years. From 1,800 tigers in 1973, to 4,000 in 1988, to 1,400 in 2007, to 2,200 today, we are where we were in 1973 just after the tiger became our national animal.

There were barely 20-25 lions around Junagadh in Gujarat at the turn of the 20th century and each one was looked after by the then nawab of Junagadh who in a way was their custodian. He managed to breed them, and with his great zeal and passion for each one of them, their numbers slowly increased.

The nawab also carefully controlled hunting of the lions. Today, some 120 years later, they are approximately 500 of them. Lions were always scarce in India’s history and I think they were imported by the kings and carefully bred for hunting.


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