Karnataka has displaced Madhya Pradesh as the state with the largest number of tigers. Tiger Estimate-2011 shows that the population of the big cats in the country has increased to 1,706 (range indicated is between 1,500 and 1,800).
The tiger habitat in the country is spread over 5.58 lakh sq km, but has shrunk over the past decade by about 72,000 sq km. In 2001-2002, there were 3,642 tigers. In 2008, the number of tigers was estimated at 1,411. This year, the survey has indicated that the tiger population in India might have risen by 295.
Karnataka houses nearly 300 big cats in the wild, beating Madhya Pradesh (257), which topped the list in the last census. The third largest tiger population in the country is in Uttarakhand (227). Nearly 12,000 sq km of land was covered during the tiger census in Karnataka.
YV Jhala, scientist with Project Tiger said that the rise in the population is seen in the southern states, and in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Conservation efforts here might be better, and the cases of poaching and smuggling reported from these states is less, when compared to the central Indian states.
This is no mean achievement, but conservationists are now concerned about the shrinking size of the tiger habitat. If conservation efforts must succeed, and if that success must be sustained, the size of the tiger habitat ought to be maintained. Each male tiger is estimated to require at least 40 sq km of territory.
Member-secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, Rajesh Gopal, said, “The forest cover needs to be increased, to sustain the conservation effort. The area has reduced by 20%, compared to the previous census. Under Project Tiger, we are looking at the core and buffer areas, and strategies are being chalked out to revive the forest. It is not enough to have lands marked as forest. We need to ensure that these areas are not spoilt.”
Ullas Karanth, whose lifetime’s passion has been studying tigers, said, “Prey density in the forest is important. In Karnataka, there is 22,000 sq km of forests, but tigers occupy only about 14,000 sq km. The government should rather look at mitigating the damage done in forest areas, and ensure that there is no fragmentation of forest land. There is also scope for increasing forest area. In case of Nagarhole, another 100 sq km can be added to the north, and in case of Bhadra, there is nearly 100sq km near the reserve that is with the revenue department.”
Poaching is another threat to the big cats. This year, four tigers died in the state. Only one of these was a natural death.
However, there is reason to believe that poaching might be under greater control. While in 2008 and 2009, the Criminal Investigation Department of the forest cell recovered 11 tiger pelts each, in 2010 no pelts were seized; till date in 2011, no such recoveries have occurred.
Principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) BK Singh, said that increased foot patrolling will be introduced to protect the tigers.
Jhala also said, “The larger number of tigers in the census this year could also be explained by the fact that the area covered in the census was larger; reporting of the data might have been better. So in addition to the conservation measures, there might be other factors explaining the rise in the population of tigers.”