Last year, India’s tiger census revealed that the country is home to nearly 3,000 of these big cats. That was rightly considered a significant achievement given that India’s tiger population had come down to around 1,400 in 2006 and the animal had been completely wiped out of reserves such as Sariska. A survey by the Union environment ministry, whose report was released on Tuesday, also celebrates this success. But it adds a caveat: Seventeen of India’s 50 tiger reserves are approaching their peak carrying capacity. In fact, nearly a third of the country’s tigers today live outside protected areas (PA). As these carnivores spill out of the national parks, they come into proximity with human settlements. This is a major reason for the rise in human-animal conflicts in the past five years.
Male tigers require a range of 70-150 square km and females need about 20-60 sq km. The animal is highly territorial and does not like sharing space with even its siblings or cubs. When it is about a year-and-a-half old, a tiger begins its search for territory. When it cannot find space in a PA, the adolescent either moves out or forces an ageing tiger out of the reserve. The itinerant animal is confronted with a shortage of prey — research shows that one tiger requires a prey base of 500 animals to survive. The big cat is forced to shed its natural reticence towards humans and stalks farms and villages for livestock. Tigers do not have a natural propensity to attack humans. Even then, reports of people being mauled to death by tigers are increasingly becoming frequent. According to data presented by then minister of state for environment, forest and climate change, Mahesh Sharma, in the Lok Sabha last year, more than 100 people were killed by tigers between 2015 and 2018.
The tiger population seems to be growing in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand. Experts suggest that the problem of plenty can be solved by relocating some tigers from places whose carrying capacity is challenged to ones that have scope to host more animals. The country’s conservation authorities could take a cue from last year’s census which had revealed scope for improvement in the Eastern Ghats’ reserves. As the country celebrates its conservation success, policymakers and scientists will have to put their heads together to devise more creative solutions and find homes for the increasing number of tigers.
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