Tiger boom in MP and Karnataka lead to major rise in big cat population in India

Bhopal, July 29, 2019 (Muslim Saleem): Between 2014 and 2018, a total of 2,461 photos of individual tigers were captured from across India, bringing the estimated tiger population to 2,967, an increase of eight per cent, found a 2018 report by Status of Tigers in India.
While tiger occupancy has increased in Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, losses were found in the north east, which the report said was due to “poor sampling”. Continued losses in Chhattisgarh and Odisha were flagged as a “matter of concern”. MP and Karnataka have the highest tiger population, the report said.
“The poor and continuing decline in tiger status in the states of Chhattisgarh and Odisha is a matter of concern,” it said.
The status report is based on a survey that covered 381,400 km of forested habitats in 20 tiger occupied states, with camera traps at 26,838 locations that led to 76,651 photographs of tigers and 51,777 of leopards.
“Tiger occupancy was found to be stable at 88,985 km the country scale since 2014 (88,558 km). Though there were losses and gains at individual landscapes and state scales,” said the report. It said that the ‘suggested’ loss and gain of tiger occupancy was primarily due to habitats with low density populations.
Effectively, the report claimed, that loss and gain of tiger occupancy in these “marginal areas” was due to several factors like proximity of a tiger source population, anthropogenic (human) pressures in the landscape and resultant changes in habitat and the protection regime.
Key implications

  1. Tiger populations of “North east Hills and Odisha remain critically vulnerable and need immediate conservation attention”, said the report. These, along with populations at Southern Western Ghats and Valmiki populations which have shown improvement, are of conservation priority on the basis of genetic distinctiveness, vulnerability and diversity.
  2. No tigers were spotted at three tiger reserves — Buxa in West Bengal, Palamu in Jharkhand and Dampa in Mizoram. Tiger populations at Nameri (Assam) and Pakke (Arunachal Pradesh) have also shown a decline.
  3. For tiger reintroduction at Palamu, increasing prey numbers need to take place with increased law and order, said the report. At Palamu and Similipal (Odisha), reintroduction needs to bring tigers from the closest source in the same genetic cluster.
  4. Repopulation at Buxa and Dampa can be done through reintroductions from Kaziranga, after prey restoration in Buxa and strengthening protection in Dampa.
  5. Ensuring the functionality of habitat corridor connectivity between source populations in India and neighboring Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar is key for long-term viability of tiger populations
  6. Tiger habitat outside protected areas are vital for linking source populations but are extensively used by communities; a conservation model that promotes tiger permeability of such habitats while simultaneously securing the livelihoods of local communities is the answer.
  7. Careful spatial planning to avoid traversing critical habitats and their linkages, along with appropriate mitigation through wildlife passage ways, will ensure that tigers and biodiversity conservation are not compromised by modern development.