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Tiger Numbers Go Up Substantially In Shivalik Hills-Gangetic Plains, Dip In Western Ghats: Govt Report

The tiger population in India has increased from 2,967 in 2018 to 3,167 in 2022, according to a government report released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While the Shivalik Hills-Gangetic Plains landscape and the Sundarbans have seen an increase in tiger numbers, the Western Ghats and Northeast-Brahmaputra Plains have seen a decline due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and poaching.

Indias 52nd Tiger Reserve - Rajasthan’s Ramgarh Vishdhari Sanctuary
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The tiger population has gone up in the Shivalik Hills-Gangetic Plains landscape, central India and the Sundarbans but their numbers have dwindled in the Western Ghats and the Northeast-Brahmaputra Plains due to habitat loss, fragmentation and poaching over the years, according to a government report released on Sunday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the latest tiger numbers at a mega event organised in Mysuru to mark the completion of 50 years of Project Tiger. According to the data, the tiger population in the country increased from 2,967 in 2018 to 3,167 in 2022. The report said aligning the aspirations of large-scale economic development while safeguarding forests and wildlife and mitigating human-tiger conflict is one of the major challenges.

"The tiger population in the forest divisions of the Shivalik Hills and Gangetic Plains landscape has recorded a substantial increase with a total of 804 unique tigers being photographed, which is higher than the estimated population of 646 in 2018," according to the "Status of Tigers Report 2022". It said photographic evidence of tigers in new areas of Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh provides hope for range expansion. "To ensure their long-term survival, it is necessary to supplement and repopulate the Shivalik Forest Division of Uttar Pradesh and increase protection for tigers in Suhelwa, and pay special attention to the genetically divergent population of Valmiki," the report said.

It also said linear infrastructure projects on the congested corridor between western and eastern Rajaji have left the area "functionally extinct" for large carnivores and elephant movement, and the adoption of green infrastructure is needed to recover the tiger population in this fragmented landscape. Additionally, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh need to invest in mitigating conflicts between human beings and tigers and mega herbivores due to their increasing populations outside protected areas. The data showed a "decrease in tiger occupancy throughout the Western Ghats", except in a few areas like Kali (Anshi Dandeli).

The area recorded 824 "unique tigers" in 2022 as compared to 981 in 2018, "indicating a decline in some regions and stability in well-protected tiger reserves". "While tiger populations within protected areas have either remained stable or increased, tiger occupancy outside of these regions has significantly decreased, such as in the Wayanad landscape, BRT Hills, and the border regions of Goa and Karnataka," the report stated. It cited the "increasing human footprint and development" as one of the major reasons behind the dwindling numbers of tigers in the Western Ghats. "While wildlife in the human-dominated landscape is a cultural part of the Western Ghats, there is increasing tension between humans, and mega herbivores and carnivores. There is utmost need to address this issue if we are to retain one of the world's biodiversity hotspots," it said.

The Western Ghats is a continuous range of hills that runs parallel to the Arabian Sea coast for about 1,600 km, covering an area of about 1,40,000 square kilometres. It spans six states and covers 12 tiger reserves, 20 national parks, and 68 wildlife sanctuaries. The region is a biodiversity hotspot and home to many endemic plant and animal species, including endangered species like the lion-tailed macaque, the Malabar giant squirrel, and the Nilgiri tahr. It is also a vital source of water for many major Indian rivers, and local communities rely on its forests for food, fuel, and medicinal plants.Despite its UNESCO world heritage site status, the Western Ghats face several environmental challenges such as deforestation, habitat loss, poaching, man-animal conflict, invasive species and climate change that threaten the survival of many species and the overall ecological balance of the region.

The number of "distinctive tigers" captured on camera in the Northeastern Hills and Brahmaputra Plains landscape was 194 as compared to the estimated population of 219 tigers in 2018. The report, however, said the tiger population in the region is "secure". "The tiger population of Northeast is genetically unique and is small in size, thus requiring intensive conservation efforts. The region is currently facing several threats such as habitat loss, poaching and human-wildlife conflict, which necessitate increased conservation efforts," it added. Central India also saw an increase in the tiger population, with 1,161 tigers photographed as compared to an estimated population of 1,033 in 2018.Tigers have occupied new areas in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, the report said.

However, it noted that the "local tiger population has become extinct in several areas, including tiger reserves like Kawal, Satkosia and Sahyadri".While the expansion of tiger habitats is a positive development, there is a need to pay attention and act quickly in these areas to reverse the trend of extinction of small populations and avoid negative human-tiger interactions, it said. The report called for serious conservation efforts to help recover the tiger population in Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The images of 100 tigers were captured in the Sundarbans in 2022 as compared to a population of 88 in 2018.

Officials said the population is steady, with a limited potential to extend its range. The tiger population and landscape are both threatened by biotic interference in the form of forest exploration, fishing, palm and timber extraction, and the expansion of waterways. To preserve the ecological integrity of the area, cross-border collaboration and knowledge exchange between India and Bangladesh are imperative, the report said.

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