India’s remaining wild tigers could be extinct within a decade if we don't act now.
A century ago there were an estimated 100,000 tigers across Asia. Since then, numbers have collapsed by 96% to just 4,000. With statistics as shocking as these, we could face a world without wild tigers in less than a decade! As such, international wildlife charity Born Free has today launched an international plea to save this beloved species.
Though the tiger is instantly recognisable and one of nature’s most charismatic and revered animals - promoted in cultures the world over - it is also persecuted and killed with alarming prejudice and brutality. Born Free is seeking support for its ‘Living with Tigers’ initiative - a network of seven Indian NGOs working across the Satpuda1 area of central India (where an estimated 500 of India’s 2,000 tigers live), to tackle the poaching crisis, safeguard tiger habitats, and promote conservation interventions that will enable communities and wildlife to live together peacefully.
Howard Jones, CEO of Born Free, commented:
“India is home to some of the greatest diversity of wildlife on Earth. Within this extraordinary ecosystem, tigers need our intervention more than ever due to countless threats including human-wildlife conflict; poaching for their body parts for traditional ‘medicine’; and habitat loss due to deforestation and chaotic or ill-considered rural development.
“It’s unimaginable to think of a world without tigers but unless we act now, the consequences could be dire. We urgently need support for our Living with Tigers initiative so we can encourage human-wildlife co-existence through education and by involving the local community in a number of unique initiatives to improve their livelihoods.”
Tiger poaching is being stamped out - around 50 notorious poachers are now behind bars and there is an understanding among poachers and traders that it is difficult to get out of jail for any kind of crime in Maharashtra. But hunting and poaching of other wildlife still occurs, which has a knock-on effect on tigers.
Development is also a major issue as, outside protected reserves, the pressure on land for human and agricultural development is intense. Satpuda’s tiger reserves are connected by forest corridors which allow tigers and other wildlife to roam freely across hundreds of miles of natural habitat. However, if these forest corridors are threatened by development, tigers are forced to venture nearer human settlements, increasing the risk of human-wildlife conflict.
“There are canals, roadways, railways, transmission lines and all sorts of projects that are proposed across the landscape,” explains Kishor Rithe, Founder of the Satpuda Foundation, which is a partner of the Living with Tigers network. She added: “I believe that every responsible agency should think about ecological security and have inbuilt mitigation plans with their project proposals.”
Interestingly, Born Free’s research indicates that about 85% of all conflict occurs when people venture into the forest - entering the territory of the wildlife. Therefore the NGOs, supported by Born Free under the Living with Tigers initiative, work to encourage human-wildlife co-existence through education, and involving the local community in a number of unique initiatives to improve their livelihoods.
Living with Tigers’ key projects include:
· Tiger Ambassador teams - five to seven men are trained to conduct regular patrols around their village, and to deal with wildlife conflict if it occurs.
· A mobile health unit which regularly visits rural villages so that local people don’t have to travel long distances to visit the doctor or hospital.
· A mobile education unit which visits local schools to teach children about wildlife and co-existence.
· Bio-gas initiatives that provide a free fuel source to homes so people don’t have to enter the forest to collect firewood.
· Women empowerment schemes that encourage women to earn their own money.
· Employment opportunities such as training women to be tourist guides or setting up a workshop for local people to make and sell legally and ethically sourced bamboo products.
· Supporting a government-run scheme to build toilets across Satpuda to improve basic health standards, but also to stop villagers entering the forest to relieve themselves.
Howard Jones concluded:
“The key to co-existence is tolerance, education and community engagement. The good news is that Living with Tigers is making progress. In the last 10 years, tiger numbers have increased to a population of 500 across the Satpudalandscape and whereas 10 years ago, Living with Tigers concentrated on post-conflict mitigation, its work is now pre-emptive, reducing incidents of conflict and safeguarding humans and wildlife, alike.
“Living in the shadow of natural predators such as tigers, leopards or sloth bears is never easy, but Living with Tigers proves it is possible if local communities are included and solutions are compassionate”
To support Born Free’s Living with Tigers initiative visit www.bornfree.org.uk/living-with-tigers