Conserving creatures

The Ministry of Environment comes out with a new action plan to protect endangered animals, reports Tehelka Bureau

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has formulated the third ‘National Wildlife Action Plan’ that will be in force till the year 2031 to save wild animals in the country. Divulging this information Minister of State, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Babul Supriyo informed in a written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha on November 25, 2019, he informed that the new Wildlife Action Plan focuses landscape approach in conservation of all wildlife. The Policy also gives special emphasis to recovery of threatened species of wildlife while conserving their habitats, which includes terrestrial, inland aquatic, coastal and marine ecosystems.

India now has 2,967 tigers, or 7 out of every 10 big cats in the wild in the world, according to the All India Tiger Estimation Results released on the occasion of International Tiger Day. The number reflects a 33 per cent increase over 2014 when there were 2,226 tigers in the country. That number itself was an improvement over 2010 (1,706) and 2006 (1,411). In the span of 12 years, India has more than doubled its number of tigers, a feat that one expert attributed to “sovereign funding and field staff”.

Madhya Pradesh has the highest number with 526 tigers (308 in 2014), followed by 524 (406) in Karnataka and 442 (340) in Uttarakhand. India, with around 3,000 tigers, is one of the biggest and safest habitats for tigers in the world. Three-fourths of the world’s tigers are in India. The new numbers have brought cheer to wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists but the Tiger Status Report 2018 has also raised some concerns about the number of tigers in the northeast and in Chhattisgarh.

Tiger numbers have more than halved in Chhattisgarh from 46 in 2014 to 19 in 2018. Mizoram and northern West Bengal which had tiger signs in 2014 have not recorded any signs this time. Tigers were not recorded in Buxa, West Bengal, Dampa in Mizoram and Palamau in Jharkhand. All three reserves recorded tiger signs in the 2014 census. And Odisha hasn’t recorded any improvement in tiger numbers.

Tiger occupancy — forests occupied by tigers — has reduced significantly in the northeast from 9,901 sqkm to 3,312 sqkm. Occupancy has also reduced in the Shivalik range. “North East Hills and Odisha remain critically vulnerable and need immediate conservation attention. The tiger reserves of Nameri and Pakke have registered declines, while tigers have not been recorded in Buxa, Palamau, and Dampa in this assessment. The poor tiger status in Indravati (Chhattisgarh) was related to law and order situation in these areas,” the report read.

On the brighter side, 83 per cent of the tigers were actually camera trapped, adding credibility to the numbers. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) team in charge of the count made some changes in the methodology with more dependence on camera trap images of tigers. “Spatial data on individual tiger photo-captures is used in combination with spatial data on prey, habitat, and anthropogenic factors as co-variates,” the report said, describing the methodology.

Some scientists who have issues with the so-called double sampling methodology, which the country uses to estimate tiger numbers, have questioned India’s tiger count methodology. India abandoned the pugmark census method in 2004 after this failed to detect the complete extinction of tigers in Sariska tiger reserve. The new method involves ground surveys of all tiger bearing forests, estimating prey abundance, understanding habitat characteristics, mapping other tiger signs, and camera trap pictures of tigers. In the double sampling method, counts of tiger tracks are correlated with actual tigers photographed in small areas to provide region wide estimates.

Now India has more than 70 per cent of global tigers.  One reason numbers may have improved this time is because of an increase in spatial coverage of tiger bearing forests. The area of camera trapping has increased by nearly 25 per cent (from 92,164 to 121,337 square km), the number of camera trap locations has increased by nearly three-folds (9,735 to 26,838 camera trapping locations) and number of states covered has also increased from 18 to 21.

Census of major flagship species is undertaken at the State-level by the respective states periodically. However, census of tiger and elephant is undertaken at the national level once every four and five years respectively.

As per the report of the latest census carried out by the state and central government, the population of endangered species especially lions, rhinos, tigers, and elephants has increased in country. Ministry is providing financial assistance to States and Union Territories for the recovery programme of critically endangered species under the component- Recovery programme for saving of critically endangered species and habitats   of the Centrally sponsored scheme ‘Development of Wildlife Habitats’. Presently 21 critically endangered species have been identified under this programme.

The measures taken by the Government to control illegal killing and poaching of wild animals include the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 provides for punishment for violation of its provisions. The Act also provides for forfeiture of any equipment, vehicle or weapon that is used for committing wildlife offence(s). The Law enforcement authorities in the States have been directed to maintain strict vigil against poaching of wild animals.

Information gathered reveals that the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has been set up to gather intelligence about poaching and unlawful trade in wild animals and animal articles and to achieve inter-state and trans-boundary coordination in enforcement of wildlife laws. The State/Union Territory Governments have been requested to strengthen the field formations and intensify patrolling in and around Protected Areas.

According to Babul Supriyo, other measures to protect endangered wildlife includes creation of Protected Areas, viz., National Parks, Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves covering important wildlife habitats all over the country under the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 to conserve wild animals and their habitats. Financial assistance is provided to the State/Union Territory Governments under the Centrally Sponsored Schemes of ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’, ‘Project Tiger’ and ‘Project Elephant’, for providing better protection to wildlife and improvement of habitat.