India's tiger population creeps back above 3,000
The census found there were 3,167 tigers in the wild across the country, up from 2,967 four years ago
India's population of wild tigers, the largest in the world by far, has risen above 3,000. But Indigenous groups warn that preservation efforts are forcing them out of their ancestral land.Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday announced that the country's tiger population has steadily grown to over 3,000.
Tigers — which once roamed widely across much of Asia— have lost some 93% of their natural range and now live in scattered populations in just 13 countries.
The census found there were 3,167 tigers in the wild across the country — up from 2,967 four years ago.
"Our family is expanding," Modi said at a ceremony in the southern city of Mysuru. "This is a success not only for India but the entire world."
The country's flagship conservation program, Project Tiger, began in 1973 after a census found India's tigers were rapidly becoming extinct through habitat loss.
"India is a country where protecting nature is part of our culture," Modi said. "This is why we have many unique achievements in wildlife conservation."
Also on Sunday, Modi launched the International Big Cats Alliance that he said would concentrate on the conservation of seven big cat species — the tiger, lion, leopard, snow leopard, puma, jaguar and cheetah.
But voices in India are increasingly questioning the culture of conservation which they say has focused on preserving wildlife over people and their communities.
The current model of conservation centers around creating reserves that can function undisturbed by humans. But experts warn that this method often ends up uprooting Indigenous communities that have lived in the now-protected forests for millennia.
The Indian government’s tribal affairs ministry has repeatedly said it is working on Indigenous rights.
But about 1% of the more than 100 million Indigenous peoples have been granted any rights over forest lands so far.
Sharachchandra Lele, of the Bengaluru-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, told the AP news agency the current conservation model is outdated.
"There are already several examples of forests used actively by local communities and tiger numbers have actually increased even while people have benefited in these regions," he said.
Others have said engaging communities is the only sustainable way forward as well.
Human-tiger conflict remains a big challenge in the country of over 1.4 billion people. Tigers or wildlife more generally, increasing in numbers in ever-shrinking spaces, tend to turn to human dominated areas, killing people or livestock for survival.
India's researchers use camera traps and computer programs to individually identify each animal.
About three-quarters of the world's wild tiger population lives in India. Scientist believe that over 100,000 tigers were living in the wild globally in 1900, but this fell to a record low of 3,200 in 2010.
The animal was threatened due to deforestation, poaching and human encroachment on habitats.
The fall of tiger population in India tells a similar story — when it gained independence from Britain in 1947, India alone is believed to have had a tiger population of around 40,000. Over subsequent decades, this declined to about 3,700 in 2002 and a record low of 1,411 four years later.
rm, rc/dj (AP, AFP)