India’s forest cover is under a quarter of the total geographical area.
The good news coming out of the latest tiger census would have brought bright smiles on the faces of people. At a time when humans might be stretching the definition of wildlife with some of their own untamed behaviour as in Manipur comes the news that tiger conservation efforts are seen to be bearing fruit with a good rise in the number of big striped cats counted in the wild.
Nothing warms the cockles of the heart of the conservationists than the rising numbers. The panic over possible extinction of India’s most famous creature of the wild with an aura and a mystique attached to it by its stealthy behaviour and its imperial looks was triggered by the prominent number 1,411 after the 2006 count.
The count of 1,411 and then 1,706 in 2010 helped focus on the drastic steps needed to be taken and today’s 3,682 is cause enough for celebration. The numbers are up despite possibly higher mortality rates, human-animal conflicts because of the demand on space around the fringes of forests and not to speak of the unceasing murderous intent of poachers who see value in the fabled tiger parts for which there is a readymade market.
A division bench of the Bombay high court, in invoking the Mahabharata to convince the Goa government to notify the Mhadei forest as a tiger reserve, recalled the unforgettable beautiful lines from the epic — “If there is no forest, then the tiger gets killed; if there is no tiger, then the forest gets destroyed. Hence the tiger protects the forest and the forest guards the tiger.”
While Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttarakhand are demonstrating best the value of declaring more forest areas as tiger reserves, Tamil Nadu has fared well in declaring contiguous habitats as tiger country while the two Telugu states and Chhattisgarh may have to become more proactive to stem the declining numbers.
India’s forest cover is under a quarter of the total geographical area. Though it grew by a little over 3 per cent between 2019 and 2021, a lot more remains to be done regarding afforestation. Tiger conservation is an index of how forest land is being protected, but, clearly, a lot more remains to be done in the face of climate change caused by global warming.