Today is International Tiger Day.
A 2007 study found that the area (southeast Asia, eastern Russia, northeastern region of the Caspian Sea) where the largest cat in the animal kingdom lives has now shrunk to 6% of what it once was.
Meanwhile, three subspecies of tigers – the Caspian tiger, the Javan tiger and the Bali tiger – have gone extinct. In addition, the South China tiger is almost on the verge of extinction, while the condition of the Indo-Malay tiger is not reassuring.
At the beginning of the 20th century, hunter-naturalists feared that this amazing species would go extinct by the middle of the 21st century. There are so many traditions, myths and stories involving this majestic animal. With the disappearance of this animal, all the forests where this animal once roamed will also suffer because this tiger is the most influential part in the tiger-dominated ecosystem.
Naturalists and scientists have found that tiger-inhabited forests are the repository of our cereal genes. At the same time, a large part of our medicines come from the wildlife of these forests.
Tiger conservationists state that the remaining tiger forests exist in "Asia's soft underbelly." According to the World Bank, these places are Asia's weakest in terms of infrastructure development and extreme poverty. As a way to rush towards rapid development, these countries have chosen to cut down forests to build settlements, agricultural land and roads. Moreover, they are searching for petroleum, and some of these countries have recently become timber exporters.
Experts have noted that the large buyers of exported timber are the influential developed countries that promote nature conservation at the same time. Naturalists are alarmed by this duplicity. The rate at which wilderness is shrinking is bewildering. Jungles are being turned into rice, soybean and palm oil farms; the landscape is changed from multi-variety forests to monoculture plantations.
The monoculture of rubber and oilseeds has destroyed the entire area's ecosystem. In the uprooted empty forests, fast-growing eucalyptus-like trees are planted that provide no food for birds and wild animals. With the application of nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides, the fertility of the land is decreasing, and the wetlands in those areas are becoming toxic. Along with a growing population, poverty is on the rise alarmingly.
New pastures are needed for an increased population of livestock. As a result, protected areas are becoming pasture lands. Human-wildlife conflict is increasing. The demand for wild meat or "bush meat" is rising, and the trade in wild animal bones and skins is increasing at an alarming rate. In some areas, the wildlife trade has become one of the sources of weapons for terrorists in some areas.
Under these circumstances, biologists and policy-makers from the World Wildlife Fund, Cat Specialist Group, IUCN etc., have appealed to the tiger-inhabited countries to do something quick. In particular, Guy Mountfort, trustee of the World Wildlife Fund, continued to convey his "Save the Tiger" mission to the heads of government of the tiger-inhabiting countries.
Mountfort started his mission in 1962. Through his efforts, the first wildlife identification survey was conducted in Bangladesh in 1969. With his enthusiasm, German scientist Hubert Heinrich of the Cat Specialist Group researched the tendency of Sundarban tigers to eat humans.
Fortunately, on 1 April 1973, India announced the Jim Corbett National Park Tiger Project in Uttarakhand for tiger conservation at the request of the World Wildlife Fund. With the encouragement of the then Prime Minister of India, a potent agency, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), was entrusted with overall supervision. Only nine forest areas were covered under the tiger project at that time. Currently, 72,749 square kilometres of the area are covered under the project, and the number of protected areas has increased to 50.
This colossal effort of India was the world's first attempt to preserve the forest and its biodiversity around an animal. This unique initiative of India inspired thirteen other tiger-inhabited countries, including Bangladesh, to develop such projects. The question may arise as to why there is so much attention on the tiger? Is it because the tiger is the national animal of both Bangladesh and India?
In reality, the tiger is just a symbol. To save tigers, you have to save the forests. It is also necessary to bring the prey of tigers and other biodiversity under management. From birds, reptiles, and insects to creepers, reservoirs and lakes – the natural development of all is considered under such a project.
The areas covered by the project were once protected forest areas. But the task was not easy. India has a vast diversity of indigenous people dependent on the jungles. Relocating them was a big challenge. Also, a mentality of conservation needed to be created among the forest department staff, which was originally created to extract wood from the forests.
Other countries also had to go through the same experience. However, the golden period of the tiger project did not last long. A 1974 census found that there were 1,800 tigers in those Indian projects. According to government documents, in the next twenty years, the tiger population increased to 3,400.
However, the census was based on footprint counting. But after the introduction of the camera trap system, it was found that the number of tigers by tracing the footprints was flawed. As a result, those who cast or trace plastic prints of tigers are naturally confused. Impressions of the same tiger vary according to soil conditions. The new system determines identification by analysing the black stripes on the tiger's body. Just like human fingerprints, the black stripes of two tigers do not match.
After the introduction of the camera system, the number of tiger counts was revised, which came out to be significantly lower. The impact of the 1970s petrodollar and 1990s yen appreciation greatly encouraged wildlife poaching. Tigers, rhinos, elephants—the trade in their body parts has skyrocketed.
Chinese traders were particularly interested in smuggling tiger meat. The number of tigers dwindled. The Species Survival Commission, a regulatory body for the closure of the international wildlife trade, has hardly succeeded despite much effort.
According to an estimate, there are 3,500 to 4,000 tigers in the natural habitat. And there are around 7,000 tigers in private collections and various tiger farms. Among these, 5,000 are in America.
In 1986, 20 farms were built in China's Hendawi to maintain the supply of tiger body parts. But the aphrodisiac businesses of China somewhat leaned on tiger supplies from a natural habitat because the products made by natural ones were supposed to be more effective.
In 2004, officials of Indian tiger projects discovered that in some of their famous tiger reserves like Rajasthan's Sariska, Madhya Pradesh's Panna, and West Bengal's Buxa, there were no tigers. The tiger population in other reserves has also declined. It was found that, not only in India but also in 13 natural tiger-inhabited areas, it had a negative impact.
The issue leaves conservationists around the world disappointed. They believe that by 2050, there will be no more tigers in the natural habitats on the earth.
At such a desperate time, the World Bank, the Global Tiger Forum, the Species Survival Commission, the Smithsonian Institute, the Panthera Group and many other institutions joined the campaign to save the tiger.
In 2010, hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin and World Bank President Robert Jellic, representatives from Bangladesh, India, Russia, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia gathered at the Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia to reach a consensus on the "Global Tiger Recovery Programme" that the number of natural tigers will be doubled by 2022. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh was also present at the conference.
The objectives of the conference were:
(a) To lay down a global approach through which the historically inhabited forests of tigers will be improved.
(b) Creating public opinion in favour of tiger preservation, diverting media attention to this.
July 29 th of this year is the time to fulfil that dream. This year has been declared the year of the tiger.
The T-2X symbol of doubling the number of tigers is still a long way to be implemented. We can only hold on to hope.