Big cats in India will need more than nine lives to survive the current threat to their species. With alarming reports pouring in from different parts of India documenting the loss of tigers, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was forced to call a meeting of the National Board for Wildlife last week, after 17 months. That the PM has agreed to create a National Wildlife Crime Prevention Bureau and a Special Task Force to report on Project Tiger highlights the extreme dangers confronting India's national animal and internationally paraded wildlife posterboy—the tiger.
Experts believe this is a do or die battle. Says P.K. Sen, former director, Project Tiger: "We're facing the biggest tiger crisis, since the project was instituted in '73. Today, at least five of the 27 project reserves are outside management control. And Tiger Reserves constitute just one-fourth of total tiger habitat." In Rajasthan, Sariska reserve is depleted, Ranthambore is on red alert. Panna in Madhya Pradesh is in dire straits after 21 young adults and nine breeding tigers have gone missing in the last two years, reveals a study by senior wildlife biologist Dr Raghunandan Singh Chundawat.
This widespread tiger loss squarely impacts the Congress-led government, since Indira Gandhi introduced Project Tiger, while son Rajiv Gandhi was the first PM to hold a meeting in Sariska in the '80s to focus on this magnificent carnivore. In less than two decades, Sariska's jungles are echoing with the stomp of forest guards looking for pugmarks with no tigers sighted here for many months.
The blame game and disaster management is in full swing. Senior ecologist Ullhas Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who has demonstrated massive error margins in the pugmark counting method followed by Project Tiger, says the census figure of 3,600 is "baseless". "Only God can count every tiger...