Project Tiger was launched in 1973 in India. The project aims at ensuring a viable population of tigers in their natural habitats and preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage for the people. The selection of areas for the reserves represented as close as possible the diversity of ecosystems across the tiger's distribution in the country. The project's task force visualized these tiger reserves as breeding nuclei, from which surplus animals would emigrate to adjacent forests. Funds and commitment were mustered to support the intensive program of habitat protection and rehabilitation under the project. The government has set-up a Tiger Protection Force to combat poachers, and funded the relocation of up to 200,000 villagers to minimize human-tiger conflicts.
During the tiger census of 2008, a new methodology was used extrapolating site-specific densities of tigers, their co-predators and prey derived from camera trap and sign surveys using GIS. Based on the result of these surveys, the total tiger population has been estimated at 1,411 individuals ranging from 1,165 to 1,657 adult and sub-adult tigers of more than 1.5 years of age.
== Goals and objectives Project Tiger was meant to identify the limiting factors and to mitigate them by suitable management. The damages done to the habitat were to be rectified so as to facilitate the recovery of the ecosystem to the maximum possible extent.
The potential tiger habitats being covered are:
Project Tiger is administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. The overall administration of the project is monitored by a Steering Committee. A Field Director is appointed for each reserve, who is assisted by the field and technical personnel. At the centre, a full-fledged Director of the project coordinates the work for the country..The main species of Tiger In India is The Royal Bengal Tiger.
Wireless communication system and outstation patrol camps have been developed within the tiger reserves, due to which poaching has declined considerably. Fire protection engineering is carried out by suitable preventive and control measures. Villages have been relocated in many reserves, especially from core areas. Livestock grazing has been controlled to a great extent in the tiger reserves. Various compensatory developmental works have improved the water regime and the ground and field level vegetation, thereby increasing the tiger density.
Tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar has analysed the perceived failure of Project Tiger. His critique draws attention to its mismanagement by a forest bureaucracy that is largely not scientifically trained. His most recent book The Last Tiger, Oxford University Press makes this case strongly. Among the consistent criticisms levelled by Thapar is the Ministry of Environment and Forests' unwillingness to curb poaching through armed patrols and its refusal to open forests to scholarly scientific enquiry.
The Indian tiger population at the turn of the 20th century was estimated at 20,000 to 40,000 individuals. The first country-wide tiger census conducted in 1995 estimated the population to comprise a little more than 1,800 individuals.
In 1973, the project was launched in Palamau Tiger Reserve, and various tiger reserves were created in the country based on a 'core-buffer' strategy. For each tiger reserve, management plans were drawn up based on the following principles:
- Elimination of all forms of human exploitation and biotic disturbance from the core area and rationalization of activities in the buffer zone.
- Restricting the habitat management only to repair the damages done to the ecosystem by human and other interferences so as to facilitate recovery of the ecosystem to its natural state.
- Monitoring the faunal and floral changes over time and carrying out research about wildlife.
By the late 1980s, the initial nine reserves covering an area of had been increased to 15 reserves covering an area of . More than 1100 tigers were estimated to inhabit the reserves by 1984. By 1997, 23 tiger reserves encompassed an area of , but the fate of tiger habitat outside the reserves was precarious, due to pressure on habitat, incessant poaching and large-scale development projects such as dams, industry and mines.
Global organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) contributed much funding to Project Tiger. Eventually, however, it was discovered that the project's field directors had been manipulating tiger census numbers in order to encourage more financial support. In fact, the numbers were so exaggerated as to be biologically impossible in some cases. In addition, Project Tiger's efforts were damaged by poaching, as well as the Sariska debacle and the latest Namdapha tragedy, both of which were reported extensively in the Indian media.
The project to map all the forest reserves in India has not been completed yet, though the Ministry of Environment and Forests had sanctioned . 13 million for the same in March 2004.
The Forest Rights Act passed by the Indian government in 2006 recognises the rights of some forest dwelling communities in forest areas. This has led to controversy over implications of such recognition for tiger conservation. Some have argued that this is problematic as it will increase conflict and opportunities for poaching; some also assert that "tigers and humans cannot exist". Others argue that this is a limited perspective that overlooks the reality of human-tiger coexistence and the role of abuse of power by authorities, rather than local people, in the tiger crisis. This position was supported by the Government of India's Tiger Task Force, and is also taken by some forest dwellers' organisations.
Reports of widespread poaching of tigers in two of the premier Tiger Reserves of North India- Sariska and Ranthambore is heartbreaking news for tiger lovers all around the world. Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, visited Ranthambore to review the condition and ordered a high level inquiry to book the culprits. A special committee of eminent ecologists and wildlife experts, under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister, has also been constituted to find new ways to curb the menace of indiscriminate poaching of tigers in India.
Wildlife protection and crime risk management in the present scenario requires a widely distributed Information Network, using state-of-the-art information and communication technology. This becomes all the more important to ensure the desired level of protection in field formations to safeguard the impressive gains of a focused project like 'Project Tiger'. The important elements in wildlife protection and control are: Mapping/Plot (graphics)plotting the relative spatial abundance of wild animals, identification of risk factors, proximity to risk factors, 'sensitivity categorization', 'crime mapping' and immediate action for apprehending the offenders based on effective networking and communication.
Space technology has shown the interconnectivity of natural and anthropogenic phenomena occurring anywhere on earth. Several tiger reserves are being linked with the Project Tiger Directorate in the GIS domain for Wildlife Crime Risk Management. A 'Tiger Atlas of India' and a 'Tiger Habitat and Population Evaluation System' for the country is being developed using state-of-the-art technology. This involves:
- Mapping, data acquisition and GIS modeling
- Field data collection and validation
- Data Maintenance, dissemination and use
Satellite data is being used and classified into vegetation and land use maps on a 1:50,000 scale, with digitized data relating to contour, villages, roads, drainage, administrative boundaries and soil. The spatial layers would be attached with attribute data, viz. human population, livestock population, meteorological data, agricultural information and field data pertaining to wildlife, habitat for evolving regional protocols to monitor tigers and their habitat.
Conservation of tigers and their prey species faces challenges from the need for income, lack of awareness, and lack of land use policy in landscapes having Tiger Reserves.
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