The year 2023 holds special significance for conservation community and for the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a statutory body under Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, as several conservation milestones were achieved during the current year.
- Project Tiger completes 50 years:- The Centrally Sponsored Scheme – Project Tiger that has put the endangered wild tigers of India on assured path of recovery has completed 50 years of successful implementation. A commemorative event “Commemoration of 50 years of Project Tiger” was inaugurated by Hon'ble Prime Minister of India in Mysuru, Karnataka on 9th April 2023. The Prime Minister also released the publications - ‘Amrit Kaal Ka Vision For Tiger Conservation’, a summary report of the 5th cycle of Management Effectiveness Evaluation of Tiger Reserves, summary report of All India Tiger Estimation (5th cycle) and declared tiger numbers. He also released a commemorative coin on the completion of 50 years of Project Tiger.
- India is now home to more than 70% of world's wild tigers:- As per the 5th cycle of All India Tiger Estimation 2022 summary report released by Hon'ble Prime Minister of India during Project Tiger’s commemorative event, India has a minimum of 3167 tigers and now is home to more than 70% of wild tiger population of the world. Further data analysis using latest statistical models for camera-trapped and non-camera-trapped tiger presence areas, the upper limit of the tiger population is estimated to be 3925 and the average number is 3682 tigers, reflecting a commendable annual growth rate of 6.1% per annum. This remarkable conservation feat has been achieved due to the pioneering initiatives undertaken by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, Government of India in collaboration with State Governments.
- Launch of International Big Cats Alliance (IBCA):- During the commemorative program, the Hon’ble Prime Minister launched the International Big Cat Alliance (IBCA) for conservation of seven big cats namely Tiger, Lion, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Cheetah, Jaguar and Puma that inhabit our planet. The alliance aims to reach out to range countries covering the natural habitats of Tiger, Lion, Snow Leopard, Puma, Jaguar, and Cheetah. IBCA would further strengthen global cooperation and efforts to conserve the wild denizens, especially the big cats.
- Amrit Kaal Ka Vision For Tiger Conservation:- Released by the Prime Minister during the commemorative event, the vision plan aims to sustain tigers for posterity while preserving tangible and intangible gains derived from tiger reserves through landscape level planning, sectoral integration and convergence.
- Successful reintroduction of cheetah :- Cheetah is the only large carnivore that has been extirpated in India over historical times. A project to bring back Cheetah by way of introduction has been launched. As part of the project, consultative bilateral meetings and negotiations were held with Republic of Namibia and Republic of South Africa. The bilateral negotiations culminated with signing of MoUs with Republic of Namibia and Republic of South Africa on 20th July 2022 and 17th January 2023 respectively. These MoUs facilitate biodiversity conservation with specific focus on conservation and restoration of cheetah in their former range areas from which they went extinct. Following the signing of MoU with Republic of Namibia, a first of batch eight cheetahs have been successfully translocated from Namibia to Kuno National Park and on 17th September 2022, the cheetahs were released into quarantine enclosure by the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India. Under the provisions of the MoU signed with South Africa,12 Cheetahs (7 males, 5 females) were translocated from South Africa to Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India on 18th February 2023. As per the Action Plan, work is under progress at Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh for establishing the second home for cheetah meta population. At present there are 15 Cheetah in Kuno including a cub borne on the Indian soil. More cheetahs are to be imported soon for introduction in Gandhisagar Wildlife Sanctuary. Cheetah interpretation centre, training centre, museum, research centre and safari are being planned at Sesaipura near Kuno.
Further, a conservation breeding program of cheetahs in Banni grasslands of Gujarat has also been approved.
- Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of Tiger Reserves:- In order to assess the management effectiveness of tiger reserves, the NTCA has been undertaking "Management Effective Evaluation" (MEE) at an interval of 4 years. Adopted from the framework of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas, Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) has emerged as the most important tool to assist and improve the management perspectives of Tiger Reserves and their associated landscape connectivity. The 5th cycle of MEE was carried out during 2022 for 51 tiger reserves the report was released during the ‘Global Tiger Day Event 2023’ in Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand on 29th July 2023. A total of 12 Tiger Reserves have achieved ‘Excellent ’ category, followed by 21 Tiger Reserves in ‘Very Good’ category, 13 Tiger Reserves in ‘Good ’ category and 5 Tiger Reserves in ‘Fair ’ category.
- Reintroduction of tigers :- As a part of active management to rebuild wild tiger population in tiger reserves where tigers became locally extinct recently, the initiative of tiger reintroduction has been undertaken. Under this active management initiative, tigers have been re-introduced in the western part of the Rajaji Tiger Reserve (Uttarakhand), Madhav National Park (Madhya Pradesh), Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve and Ramgarh Vishdhari (Rajasthan). Efforts are on to reintroduce tigers in the Buxa Tiger Reserve soon.
- Declaration of new Tiger Reserves:- With declaration of new tiger reserve “Rani Durgavati" in Madhya Pradesh, the total number of tiger reserves in the county has gone up to 54 with more than 78,000 Square KM area and covers more than 2.30% of geographical area of India.
- Conservation Assured' Tiger Standards (CA|TS) accreditation of Tiger Reserves in India:- Conservation Assured) Tiger Standards (CA|TS) is a set of criteria which allows tiger sites to check if their management will lead to successful tiger conservation as per the international standards. In the current year, six tiger reserves namely Kali, Melghat, Navegaon – Nagzira, Pilibhit and Periyar have been awarded with CA|TS accreditation. So far a total of 23 tiger reserves of India have received CA|TS accreditation.
- Bilateral co-operation with Tiger Range Countries: - For fostering transboundary conservation of tigers across India and Bangladesh in Sundarban landscape, a bilateral meeting was held on 14th February 2023 at Kolkata, West Bengal. For promoting tiger conservation in Cambodia, both India and Cambodia have signed a MoU on "Cooperation in biodiversity conservation and sustainable wildlife management recovery strategy of tiger and its habitat". As part of bilateral initiative, the Indian delegation visited Cambodia for assessing the field situation and the capacity building requirements for tiger reintroduction initiative in Cambodia.
- International award to tiger reserves:- During 2022-23, Pench Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh) and Pench Tiger Reserve (Maharashtra) jointly and Satpura Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh) have been awarded with Tx2 award, which is instituted by a consortium of international organization namely GEF, UNDP, IUCN, WWF and GTF.
- Tiger Mortality: There have been reports in the media highlighting the high number of tiger deaths in 2023 in India without considering the context of tiger ecology and the stringent diligence which is exercised by the Government of India in ascertaining the cause of this mortality. Unreliable and unauthentic data from third parties has been highlighted in the media sensationalizing the entire issue. The National Tiger Conservation Authority has a strict protocol to assign a cause to a tiger death, which is treated as unnatural unless the State in question can prove otherwise through submission of necropsy reports, histopathological and forensic assessments, along with photographs and circumstantial evidence. This protocol is outlined in a dedicated Standard Operating Procedure. The reason for these tigers' deaths can only be determined after a thorough analysis of these documents. These findings are reflected in the website of the NTCA in order to ensure complete transparency and present a true picture of tiger deaths to all audience.
As of December 25, 2023, 177 tiger deaths have occurred in the country and not 202 as has been incorrectly reported. This is predominantly in States which have a robust tiger population and have habitats which are functioning at their carrying capacity. Maharashtra has registered the highest number of deaths at 45 followed by Madhya Pradesh at 40, Uttarakhand at 20, Tamil Nadu at 15 and Kerala at 14. In addition, 54 percent of these have taken place outside tiger reserves. While the average of a tiger in the wild is around 10-12 years, 40 percent of tiger deaths in 2023 are composed of cubs and subadults, age classes which have naturally high mortality rates due to tiger land tenurial dynamics. Of the cases where the cause has been confirmed, the trend is evident with more than 77% being due to natural causes or causes not attributable to poaching.
Wild tigers in India are growing at a healthy rate of 6% per year, which balances the loss of tigers due to various natural causes and maintains tiger population as per the carrying capacity of the habitat. It is important to recognize that natality and mortality are natural occurrences, and that the high annual recruitment, as seen by this robust growth rate, more than offsets the average number of tiger mortalities per year in the nation.
India's Project Tiger has made tremendous progress in tiger conservation over the past five decades, but challenges like poaching, habitat fragmentation continue to pose threats to tiger conservation. However, NTCA is working relentlessly with Forest Departments of Tiger Range States in protecting the tiger habitats and corridors that are crucial for securing the future of India's tigers and their ecosystems for generations to come.