Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Project Tiger: What was it intended to be

Project Tiger: Project Tiger, launched in 1973-74, is one of our most successful conservation ventures in the recent times. The project aims at tiger conservation in specially constituted 'tiger reserves', which are representative of various bio-geographical regions falling within our country. It strives to maintain a viable tiger population in the natural environment.

An estimate of the tiger population in India, at the turn of the century, placed the figure at 40,000. Subsequently, the first ever all India tiger census was conducted in 1972 which revealed the existence of only 1827 tigers. Various pressures in the later part of the last century led to the progressive decline of wilderness, resulting in the disturbance of viable tiger habitats. At the IUCN General Assembly meeting in Delhi, in 1969, serious concern was voiced about the threat to several species of wildlife and the shrinkage of wilderness in the country. In 1970, a national ban on tiger hunting was imposed and in 1972 the Wildlife Protection Act came into force. A 'Task Force' was then set up to formulate a project for tiger conservation with an ecological approach.

The project was launched in 1973, and various tiger reserves were created in the country on a 'core-buffer' strategy. The core areas were freed from all sorts of human activities and the buffer areas were subjected to 'conservation oriented land use'. Management plans were drawn up for each tiger reserve, based on the principles outlined below:

1. Elimination of all forms of human exploitation and biotic disturbance from the core area and rationalization of activities in the buffer zone.
2. Restricting the habitat management only to repair the damages done to the eco-system by human and other interferences, so as to facilitate recovery of the eco-system to its natural state.
3. Monitoring the faunal and floral changes over time and carrying out research about wildlife.

Initially, 9 tiger reserves were established in different States during the period 1973-74, by pooling the resources available with the Central and State Governments. These nine reserves covered an area of about 13,017sq.km-viz Manas (Assam), Palamau (Bihar), Similipal (Orissa), Corbett (U.P.), Kanha (M.P.), Melghat (Maharashtra), Bandipur (Karnataka), Ranthambhore (Rajasthan) and Sunderbans (West Bengal).

The project started as a 'Central Sector Scheme' with the full assistance of Central Government till 1979-80: later, it become a 'centrally Sponsored Scheme' from 1980-81, with equal sharing of expenditure between the center and the states.

The W.W.F. has given an assistance of US $ 1 million in the form of equipments, expertise and literature. The various States are also bearing the loss on account of giving up the forestry operations in the reserves.

The main achievements of this project are excellent recovery of the habitat and consequent increase in the tiger population in the reserve areas, from a mere 268 in 9 reserves in 1972 to 1576 in 27 reserves in 2003. Tiger, being at the apex of the food chain, can be considered as the indicator of the stability of the eco-system. For a viable tiger population, a habitat should possess a good prey base, which in turn will depend on an undisturbed forest vegetation. Thus, 'Project Tiger', is basically the conservation of the entire eco-system and apart from tigers, all other wild animals also have increased in number in the project areas. In the subsequent 'Five Year Plans', the main thrust was to enlarge the core and buffer zones in certain reserves, intensification of protection and ecodevelopment in the buffer zones of existing tiger reserves, creation of additional tiger reserves and strengthening of the research activities.

The management strategy was to identify the limiting factors and to mitigate them by suitable management. The damages done to the habitat were to be rectified, so as to facilitate the recovery of eco-system to the maximum possible extent. Management practices which tend to push the wildlife populations beyond the carrying capacity of the habitat were carefully avoided. A minimum core of 300 sq. km. with a sizeable buffer was recommended for each project area. The overall administration of the project is monitored by a 'Steering Committee'. The execution of the project is done by the respective State Governments. A 'Field Director' is appointed for each reserve, who is assisted by the field and technical personnel. The Chief Wildlife warden in various States are responsible for the field execution. At the Centre, a full-fledged 'Director' of the project coordinates the work for the country.

The following potential tiger habitats in the country are being covered:
*Shivalik-Terai Conservation Unit(Uttaranchal, UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Nepal)
*Nort east Conservation Unit
*Sunderbans Conservation Unit
*Central Indian Conservation Unit
*Eastern Ghat Conservation Unit
*Western Ghat Conservation Unit

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