The passing of legislation (Wildlife Protect Act 1972) and creation of protected areas, and the Project Tiger Program were milestones that laid the foundation of nature conservation in India. For the first time after independence the country had a serious look at the status of its wilderness.
Subsequently a series of corrective measures were taken. Tiger was at the helm of conservative initiatives. The beleaguered animal had lost lot of ground, thanks to indiscriminate hunting, poaching and extensive loss of habitat.
The creation of protected areas was a master stroke, especially the inviolate core zones. In the core zones no human habitation except that of the forest staff is allowed, all activities relating to forest produce do not take place. As a result the ecosystems have vastly improved. The outer ring of the forests contains the buffer zone which is an amalgamation of forests patches, villages, fields and public road network. The buffer forests are patchily linked with the regular forests, status of which is anybody's guess.
|Tiger Image Courtesy: Mukund Yadav|
With proper initiatives, the the big cat has gained some ground in the recent times. Many well managed parks have seen a rise in population. But with the success have arisen problems galore.
The buffer zone is inept in containing the swelling population of big cats and the prey. There is a regular decline in the forest cover due to illegal logging which has reduced the habitats into fragments often degraded, some of which are completely nonviable.
The human population in India is swelling here like anywhere else and this is hampering the movement of wild animals. The extreme biotic pressure is weighing down on the wild inhabitants of the ecosystems. The loss of space as degradation increases is apparent, so is altered behaviour seen among the big cats.
If we have to see a constant rise in population of tertiary consumers space is vital. The maximum number of conflicts with humans occur in the buffer. Animals do not understand the concept of protected area, for them any good habitat is worth moving into. The presence of humans in large numbers and their activities are discouraging for a tiger seeking new pastures.
The tiger is sensitive to human presence like the hard ground swamp deer. Though the big cat survives along with humans its breeding and life span are reduced. The conflict amplifies whence it is forced to prey of livestock. In many of our tiger reserves a large number of livestock are regularly preyed upon, and besides the human antipathy generated the big cat becomes susceptible to disease transmission and poaching as well.
Animals have been electrocuted, snared, shot and exterminated by poisoning their kill. (Sometimes exterminated legally). Even if some PA's may not be under the scanner of organised poachers opportunists are present everywhere and the cases are on the rise.
Hence if we wish to increase tiger population in India, we have to conserve effectively all the remaining habitats irrespective of their status. Though it is impossible to create extensive inviolate grounds, conservative initiatives need a paradigm shift as far as human inhabited habitats are concerned.
Some of the macro solutions could be control and reduction of human populations, alternative to pastoral lifestyle, alternative fuel supply, restriction on construction and commercialisation. Many laudable steps have already been taken but require a greater impetus. In time to come more solutions will emerge.
Wildlife tourism in buffer zones has been lauded by many conservationists. They believe greater protection measures will augur as a result of increased importance of the status of habitats there. A rise in equity is certain to increase the importance of our wilderness hence well managed tourism does play a part.
(But safaris in the buffer zones are a poor alternative to the experience in the core. Hence there are few takers.The habitats here do offer good bird watching experience.)