Tiger habitat occupancy unchanged from 1970 to 2015 in Malnad

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‘If future tiger recovery efforts can be optimised, region can potentially support up to 1,300 of them’

  • Documentation of tiger recoveries in the last few decades in Malnad region has shown that between 1970 and 2015, the tiger habitat occupancy remained unchanged at about 14,000 km2 (sqkm), out of the 21,000 km2 of potential habitat.
  • Scientists from the Centre for Wildlife Studies also found that tiger numbers rose from about 70 to 391, primarily in a few wildlife reserves with long histories of law enforcement.
  • The study, ‘Tigers against the odds: Applying macro-ecology to species recovery in India’, which appeared in Biological Conservation, suggests that if future tiger-recovery efforts can be optimised, Malnad can potentially support up to 1,300 wild tigers. The study has been authored by K. Ullas Karanth, N. Samba Kumar, and Krithi Karanth.

 

Anthropogenic pressures

  • According to the study, the animals are in serious decline from anthropogenic pressures: prey depletion by human hunting, killing of tigers for conflict mitigation or for trade in their body parts, and habitat loss or degradation.
  • In spite of conservation efforts over 50 years, wild tigers now occupy less than 7% of their historical range.
  • However, scientists found that over five decades tiger recovery in the Malnad landscape occurred in an overall socio-economic context characterised by significant human population growth, increasing life expectancy, rise in real wages, and overall poverty reduction, which were induced by advancing technology and demographic transition.
  • Reduction in hunting of prey species, regulation of local access to forest product extraction, and in some cases, reduction of human impacts through voluntary village resettlements have underpinned the recovery.
  • Despite fragmented habitats, tiger populations have been able to recover in regions of India with high human population densities, economic growth, and development. 
  • In contrast, other tiger landscapes in Odisha, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, and north-eastern India support more extensive, less-fragmented forests, and have lower levels of human population density and development. 
  • These regions do not support significant tiger populations, and have shown very little progress in tiger recovery.
  • We believe the failure of tiger recovery across these large regions is due to several historical, cultural, and social factors, which do not promote effective law enforcement that led to the recovery elsewhere.

 

Socio-economic factors

  • Though some factors associated with development, such as increasing pressures from infrastructure projects such as highways, railways, canals and power lines, have clear negative consequences for tiger habitats, demanding rejection of these projects in every case is a conservation strategy unlikely to succeed.
  • The key to bringing back tigers and other such threatened species lies in apportioning the land wisely, separating nature preservation and human development, recognising the continual need for effective law enforcement, encouraging rather than stifling non-governmental conservation efforts, and accepting the reality that wildlife conservation must succeed under the broader societal mandate for economic and technological progress.
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