In 1973, the Government of India launched Project Tiger, an ambitious, holistic conservation project, aimed at safeguarding the nation's tiger population and preserving biodiversity.
Over the past fifty years later, Project Tiger has achieved commendable success, making significant strides in tiger conservation. Initially covering nine tiger reserves spanning 18,278 km2, the project has flourished into a remarkable accomplishment with 53 reserves spread across 75,796 km2, effectively covering 2.3% of India's total land area.
India currently harbors almost 75% of the world’s wild tiger population.
The first phase of tiger conservation in the 1970s focused on enacting the Wildlife Protection Act and establishing protected areas for tigers and tropical forests. However, the 1980s saw a decline due to extensive poaching.
In response, the government initiated the second phase in 2005, adopting a landscape-level approach, community involvement & support, implementing strict law enforcement, and using modern technology for scientific monitoring to ensure tiger conservation.
This approach not only led to an increase in the tiger population, but also had several critical outcomes that included the designation of inviolate critical core and buffer areas, the identification of new tiger reserves, and the recognition of tiger landscapes and corridors.
The monitoring exercise inculcated scientific thinking amongst forest staff and employment of technology ensured transparency of data collection and analysis. India categorized tiger habitats into five major landscapes based on biogeography and interconnectivity, enabling effective ecological and management-based strategies.
With significant changes in the spatial patterns of tiger occurrence and an increase in unique tiger sightings from 2461 in 2018 to 3080 in 2022, now more than 3/4th of the tiger population is found within protected areas.
On April 9, 2022, during the celebration of 50 years of the Project Tiger at Mysusru, Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi declared the minimum tiger population of 3167, which is the population estimate from the camera-trapped area.
Now, further analysis of data, done by the Wildlife Institute of India, from both 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.
Central India and the Shivalik Hills and Gangetic Plains witnessed notable increases in tiger population, particularly in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Maharashtra.
However, certain regions, such as the Western Ghats, experienced localized declines, necessitating targeted monitoring and conservation efforts.
Some states, including Mizoram, Nagaland, Jharkhand, Goa, Chhattisgarh, and Arunachal Pradesh, have reported disquieting trends with small tiger populations.
The largest tiger population of 785 is in Madhya Pradesh, followed by Karnataka (563) & Uttarakhand (560), and Maharashtra (444).
The tiger abundance within the Tiger Reserve is highest in Corbett (260), followed by Bandipur (150), Nagarhole (141), Bandhavgarh (135), Dudhwa (135), Mudumalai(114), Kanha (105), Kaziranga (104), Sundarbans (100), Tadoba (97), Sathyamangalam (85), and Pench-MP (77).
Various tiger reserves have shown remarkable growth, while others face challenges. Approximately 35% of the tiger reserves urgently require enhanced protection measures, habitat restoration, ungulate augmentation, and subsequent tiger reintroduction.
To preserve ecological integrity, there is need to strongly continue eco-friendly development agenda, minimize mining impacts, and rehabilitate mining sites. Additionally, fortifying protected area management, intensifying anti-poaching measures, employing scientific thinking and technology-driven data collection, and addressing human-wildlife conflict are vital steps to protect the country's tiger populations.
India's Project Tiger has made tremendous progress in tiger conservation over the past five decades, but challenges like poaching is still a threat to tiger conservation. Continued efforts to protect tiger habitats and corridors are crucial for securing the future of India's tigers and their ecosystems for generations to come.
On the occasion of the Global Tiger Day celebrated at the Corbett Tiger Reserve today, 29 July 2023, a detailed report was released by Union MoS Shri Ashwini Kumar Choubey. In this program, CM Uttarakhand and Union MOS Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Tourism Shri Ajay Bhatt also participated besides officers from tiger range states, MoEFCC, and NTCA.