….Simple arithmetic provides a total, today, of around 1,300 tigers in the country; some tiger biologists believe the actual number may be less than 1,000, perhaps even
as few as 800.
We do not need to argue the numbers: whichever way you look at the tiger’s situation, it is dire; it is a national crisis. But is the government bothered? Do we see the
Ministry of Environment and Forests galvanised into action now that their own Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Institute of India project is providing data that confirms what conservationists have been saying for the last few years. Tragically not.
What we find is a government at best silent, at worst still disowning and denying the figures. What will it take to convince it? We have had facts and figures and images of Indian tiger skins poached and swamping Tibet; we have had Indian tiger biologists
with scientific data to back their arguments, we have had children petitioning the PM in for the tiger’s cause, we have a high-profile tiger reserve (Sariska) lose all its tigers; we now have a major ‘official’ study showing exactly where tigers can still
be found and from where they are missing, a study showing how fragmented their habitat is, how precarious their existence: yet, the point is argued and denied.
The issue is not people versus tigers, it is not that wildlife conservationists ‘bicker’ or put their egos before the tiger, it is not that there is a controversy within the informed community as much
of the media like to portray; the major stumbling block to saving the tiger is simply that those with the mandate and muscle to maintain and protect natural India are failing to do so. The true battle is people — the forest-dependent people especially — and
tigers versus the government. It is not only the tiger and other wildlife that is being squeezed. It does not take much newspaper reading even for city-dwellers to know that the farming communities, the tribal populations and other marginalised people are
equally being sacrificed in our shining India march towards a global economy and double-digit economic growth in emulation of industrialised countries elsewhere.
…………… we must forge alliances and speak out in one voice to prevail upon the government that a new and professional system of wildlife care and management is required and must be instituted: one that
involves and gives respect to all those living in and around the wilderness areas, that is transparent and accountable, that understands that knowledge is the basis for creative care and that science and research are required to provide that base. We do not
have this now. The present poaching profile is that of serious organised crime and it will not disappear only by patrolling and regarding all local communities as potential poachers. We need a management system that understands that they are custodians of
the most precious resources, not rajas with fiefdoms. We need a system that keeps communication channels with the wider world open so that it can evolve. If India’s wild areas are to survive, if India’s environment is to remain conducive to human survival,
such changes must happen now.
-Joanna Van Gruisen is a wildlife photographer and former editor, TigerLink News
Source: Hindustan Times 25 May 2007