There are good tidings from the land of tigers. India, with the world’s largest population of Royal Bengal tigers, has seen the doubling of the once-endangered species — from the scary 1,411 tigers of 2006 to 2,967 now. The goal of doubling the tiger population in 13 countries in Asia, besides Russia, was set in 2010, and India beat the deadline handily by a few years. Project Tiger’s success must be attributed first to awareness of the “Save the Tiger” programme, kickstarted in the 1970s to end the old Raj legacy of hunting the striped cats. In saving the custodian of the jungle, it’s also proved the forest food chain is better than before, and other large carnivores are also flourishing. A sense of preserving the environment is never better served than in saving the habitats of wild animals.
The territorial tiger needs very large spaces, which is why it invariably became a victim in ever rising man-tiger conflicts. There is, however, no place for complacency in these good numbers, most of which were logged with irrefutable proof in camera sightings of about 2,461 tigers. The most recent revenge killing of a tiger, beaten to death with sticks by villagers in Uttar Pradesh, is illustrative of how increasing human population will deal with wild animals. The tiger’s romantic image may have helped the big cats flourish. But the world’s 7.6 billion people, representing just 0.01 per cent of all living things, have caused the loss of 83 per cent of all wild animals and 50 per cent of plant species, going by one estimate. The worst destruction of animals was in the last 50 years, which is why the shining tiger example holds an important conservation lesson.