The preliminary tiger estimate submitted by the Tiger Task Force to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a fortnight ago reveals that the majestic feline is more critically endangered than it was in the last estimate in 2001-2002.
If the controversial pug-mark method had accounted for 3,642 tigers in the country four years ago, the refined methodology approved by the Tiger Task Force and executed by National Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Institute of India indicates that there could be less than 1,700 tigers in the wild now.
The preliminary estimate submitted on November 1, 2007 to the PM by the member secretary, National Board for Wildlife, shows that the central Indian landscape has lost more than half of its population due to poaching and habitat fragmentation. From a robust 1,233 cats, it is now down to 461.
For example, if Madhya Pradesh boasted 710 tigers in 2002, the numbers have drastically come down to 300. The percentage of decline in Chhattisgarh is alarming. If there were an estimated 227 tigers four years ago, there are a mere 26 now. Maharashtra, too, has lost more than half of its population (from a viable 238 to a vulnerable 103).
Rajasthan, which forced the Union government to constitute the Tiger Task Force after tigers vanished from the Sariska and Ranthambore reserves — is left with 32 cats as against 58 in 2002.
With the estimate for central India, done in three phases, being disappointing, conservationists are concerned that the figures for most of India, which is to completed by December 2007, could be even worse.
The NTCA and WII have drawn the attention of the PM, urging him to address the source-link situation on a priority. They have attributed the decimation to fragmentation of habitat.
"The assessment reveals fragmentation of forest connectivity around source population — tiger reserves and protected areas and forest areas outside protected areas. This indicates that they hardly have any viable tiger population. This calls for addressing the source-link situation on a priority," the National Board for Wildlife says.
Though the central India estimate is alarming, Karnataka forest department is confident its tigers are safe in its reserves. "Though the WII is yet to release the figures for Karnataka (401 in 2002), we are confident that we have a viable population. I am sure there are at least 250-300 tigers in our reserves," said chief wildlife warden I B Srivatsava.