One of the biggest reality shows on earth happens not in the studios of Sony, Zee or Star, but in the few forests that still stand in India. In these dense woods, the ancient truth of fang and claw is reinforced each day as animals struggle to survive another dawn or dusk.
No single animal of its kind is more attractive or threatened as the tiger. As I have mentioned in one of my early posts, the debate on tigers in India is generally simplistic. That’s probably the reason the country has practically ignored the report of the Wildlife Institute of India, estimating the number of tigers left in the wild at about 1,300. It amuses many that those who puffed up tiger numbers, including Project Tiger, as recently as 2004 and debunked scientific assessments are today reconciled to the depressing figures.
But now, a group of scientists — Jai Ranganathan, Kai M.A. Chan, K.Ullas Karanth and James L. David Smith report in the journal Biological Conservation that if Indians can indeed approach tiger conservation seriously (and thus save all the other animals and plants in the habitat), we could host an astounding 3,500 to 6,500 tigers, most of them in only 21 reserves in the country.
The basis for such an estimate is entirely technical and scientific, and those who are keen could look up the full peer-reviewed paper currently in press in the journal. But most people would feel elated that the Indian subcontinent still offers promise — and does possess the habitat after centuries of exploitation by kings, the colonial rulers and post-colonial economic and commercial pressures.
The big centres of hope, according to the paper, are Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park (NP), Manas Tiger Reserve (TR), Parsa Wildlife Reserve (WR) and Border Zone (BZ), Valmiki TR, Nagarjunasagar TR, Simlipal TR, Indravati TR, Royal Bardia NP and BZ, Bandipur TR, Mudumalai NP and Wildlife Sanctuary (WS), Nagarahole NP, Wynad WS, Kanha TR, Sanjay NP, Sanjay Dubri WS, Dudhwa TR, Kaziranga NP, Melghat TR, Rajaji NP, Bandhavgarh TR, Corbett TR, Buxa TR, Pench TR, Bori SAtpura TR, Noradehi WS, Palamau TR, Balaram Ambaji WS, Jessore WS, Mount Abu WS.
Clearly, the majority of the promising sites are in the Central India, long considered the best conservation area in the country for tigers and now assessed with a carrying capacity of between 200 and 299 tigers each. In numerical terms, the areas that can host the greatest numbers (over 299) are the Jigme Singye Wangchuk NP in Bhutan and the Parsa WR in the Royal Chitwan NP and BZ with Valmiki TR.
The important point to note is that these heart-warming survival numbers for tigers are possible only with a big IF, starting with the Prime Minister who can derive inspiration from Indira Gandhi when it comes to nature. But are we as a people interested in these issues beyond drawing room talk and images of tigers on our plasma televisions?