In the past few months, India’s attention has once more been focused on the plight of its critically endangered tiger populations. Following a Supreme Court ban on all tiger tourism in July, the issue has been hotly debated with critics and those living directly off income generated by tiger tourism adamantly insisting that a ban on tourism would allow for poachers to access the parks and hunt the animals more easily, potentially with disastrous effects on the tiger populations that conservation organisations, locals and the government have been working so hard at protecting. Last week the ban was lifted and controlled tourism has been allowed to resume in tiger reserves.
Why is it so important that wild tigers are protected? Of course, all of the world’s species are intrinsically worth protecting and saving in and of themselves but there are other important reasons too. As the WWF points out, tigers are an important member of an ecosystem, playing a vital role in mainaining it and ensuring maximum biodiversity. As the member of their ecosystem occupying the spot at the top of the food chain, tigers are vital to controlling the numbers of ungulates in parks. If the numbers of ungulates, feeding on vegetation are allowed to increase in number, overgrazing woul occur with serious effects on the whole ecosystem. Species extinction often spells the collapse of an entire ecosystem.
Furthermore, the local economy in areas surrounding tiger reserves are reliant on the income generated by tiger related eco-tourism. Communities sell curious and run guesthouses and restaurants for tourists in areas where this tourism occurs. Perhaps most importantly, local tourist guides who rely on the very existence of the tigers for their livelihood, go to great lengths to protect the tigers in reserves through voluntary (usually around the clock) patrols of areas where tigers live. With the right policies therefore, the protection of tigers coupled with responsible tourism means that the existence of tigers provides a vital source of income for many rural communities.
The issue of how best to protect wild tiger populations rests largely on India’s shoulders where around half of the world’s estimated 3,200 tigers live. Poaching still remains the number one threat and the trade in tiger parts outside of India shows little sign of abating. In China, tiger parts are used in traditional medicine. The result is that tiger parts are highly prized and large sums of money are fetched from the practice.
Encouraging signs of success in the race to protect India’s tiger are visible and tiger populations seem to be on the rise. The increase in tiger populations is due mostly to government initiatives from the 1970’s onwards aimed at setting up tiger reserves favouring habitat preservation and allowing for tigers to be better monitored and protected whilst providing the them with the necessary space to roam and hunt.
Today, many international conservation groups are working very hard at saving the tiger from going extint but the fact remains that tiger numbers are still dangerously low and big steps need to be taken if governments and their partners are to meet their goal of doubling tiger populations by 2022. Core to the goal of saving the wild tiger is the need to reduce the demand for tiger parts whilst continuing to bolster laws and step-up on efforts to protect the tiger in India’s reserves.
Click on these links to see some of the important conservation initiatives by some international and local NGO’s for more information and ideas about how you can contribute to this important cause.
Author: Carrie Byrne/ RESET editorial