India has lost 4,685 sq km of tiger forests — more than the size of Goa and Mumbai combined — between 2011 and 2017, reveals the full report of the 2018 All-India Tiger estimation released on Tuesday.
Due in September 2019, the quadrennial report was delayed by 11 months. On July 29, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi released a summary report, announcing a 33 per cent jump in India’s tiger number from 2,226 in 2014 to 2,967 in 2018.
In September 2019, The Indian Express exposed major anomalies in the 2014 report’s photo database. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) that partners the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in the quadrennial survey modified the 2014 photo album on its website with a corrigendum.
Besides tiger numbers, the quadrennial survey also estimates the extent of tiger presence in the country. A wider and unbroken tiger range signifies better chances for maintaining connectivity and gene flow among different local populations.
While registering an impressive gain of 741 tigers in four years, the 2018 report said that the extent of tiger-occupied forests remained stable at 88-89,000 sq km since 2014. While the tiger abandoned one-fifth of its national range in that period, new areas colonised by the big cat compensated for the loss.
However, the status of India’s forest cover changed since the 2011 Forest Survey of India (FSI) report that was used for the 2014 tiger survey. So the 2018 tiger report “recomputed tiger-occupied forests for the 2014 cycle on the forest cover of 2017” to make this comparative analysis. The reworked figures revealed a loss of 4,685 sq km of tiger forests between 2011 and 2017.
Adjusted for 2017 forest cover, the extent of tiger-occupied forests reported in 2014 was reduced significantly in the Shivalik, central Indian, and Western Ghats landscapes (see chart). On paper, this loss was largely compensated by a gain of 4,080 sq km of tiger forests in the north-east.
This gain is possibly due to the inclusion of high-altitude forests where tigers have been recently recorded since the overall forest cover actually shrunk in the north-east during 2011-17. Overall, the FSI recorded the destruction of 34,204 sq km of forests in India during that six-year period.
While WII Principal Investigator YV Jhala declined to comment, NTCA chief SP Yadav was not immediately available.
“Yes, we gained some and lost some. Forest dynamics is an ongoing process due to environmental events and human-induced causes. India’s efforts on the tiger front are unparalleled. Sustenance of ecosystem services will depend on active management of human-tiger interface,” said Dr Rajesh Gopal, former NTCA chief who launched the quadrennial all-India camera-trap survey in 2006.
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