Good news is trickling in from the country’s remote tiger reserves, where the 2013 big cat census has been on for a while.
Preliminary signs indicate India’s tiger population may be better than the 1,706 seen in 2010, and as data is likely to be progressively more thorough, the credibility of the count will be higher, with 530,000 man hours spent in counting the cats. The national base figure of tigers is also likely to be higher as no proper census was ever of Sunderbans tigers.
The nightmare figure of 1,411 of 2008 is behind us, but the warning signs are clear: that complacency can be very expensive. Extensive studies by the National Tiger Conservation Authority caution us that while the state of tigers at the country’s 53-plus reserves is fairly good, those outside the protected areas are much more at the mercy of poachers, who try to satisfy insatiable demands from China and the Far East for tiger claws, given their avowed aphrodisiac qualities, and skins for souvenirs.
The news on the rhinoceros front, however, is not very encouraging: these animals face the double whammy of poaching and natural deaths in Assam, where since 2011 at least 156 rhinos have been killed and another 1,002 have died in the wild. With the crush of population showing visibly in man-animal conflicts and man’s own predatory behaviour towards wildlife, India, which has over half the world’s tigers, has a greater task on hand than many nations in preserving its natural heritage.