Alarm bells for tigers


Sagnik Sengupta

ID photo Sagnik Sengupta-02

Sagnik Sengupta is co-founder of SAGE- Stripes and Green Earth. An avid wild life enthusiast, a supply chain professional, also likes to highlight the current scenario in the Indian tiger conservation through articles. Working in various projects under SAGE for improving the socio economic and living conditions of people living around the jungles so that they be a part of the movement to save not only tigers but jungles too. 


The IATA Tiger News platform is not only bringing news from other media  but it also provides a platform for people that have an interest in tigers or tiger conservation.

Around 1900 some 100,000 tigers roamed the forests of Asia.  Now only an estimated 4,642 tigers have to live on only 7% of their original habitat.
Tigers are facing many threats. We all know about poaching but most people don’t know how the wildlife crime market works. We all know about deforestation but how mining, palm oil and paper & pulp corporations work is a blind spot for most people. We all know about medicines for potency but we don’t have a clue about the Chinese mafia and its relation with Tradtional Chinese Medicines. We know about circuses and zoos but most people don’t know anything about the money and politics involved to maintain the status quo. We know about governments and NGOs involved in tiger conservation but only few people know how hard and difficult conservation really is.
Our contributors help you to learn more about tigers and what’s happening with them.

India lost 51 tigers in the first five months since January 2019. With jungles & its living beings in the last priority, the days will not be far when we get to see few handfuls of the Royal Cats either in a zoo or in pictures – if still we don’t wake up and start to relook into the entire scenario of tiger conservation.

Indian tigers have been in the crosshair for centuries and every time we hear the news of a tiger death we believe it to be the last incident and wish it not to happen again. The reason behind such expectation is the continuous efforts of the tiger conservation like Save Tiger, Project Tiger and WWF who work round the clock to preserve the endangered species. However, a recent response to National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) states that India has lost 51 tigers have been killed in the territorial fight, poaching or electrocution in the first five months, untill May 29, 2019. On average, the country has lost 10 tigers every month which is half of a total of 102 tigers that were killed in the year 2018. While most of the cases are still under scrutiny as per NTCA website but with reference to on the spot facts – it is seen that almost 40% is due to infighting and another 25% is due to poaching while the rest died natural deaths.

Historical 1411 Tigers Left In India Despite Project Tiger.

The tiger population in India was estimated to be around 40,000 but then it plunged with a count reaching as low as 1411 in the late 2000s. Despite the consistent efforts of the Project Tiger which was started in 1973 in India, there has been a decline in the tiger population with an ever-growing threat of poaching, cannibalism and other reasons.

India is slowly losing the war to save the tigers. According to a recent data available from Tigernet, a database (NTCA),  Madhya Pradesh has remained at the top of the list with about 18 tiger deaths followed by Maharashtra with the deaths of 8 tigers in the first five months of the year 2019. In 80% mortality, the cause of the deaths couldn’t be identified. However, NTCA officials are still investigating the cases.

Some of the cases of tiger deaths over the past five months are mentioned below

Tiger deaths 2019

Tiger Deaths in India Since 2012 - 2018

Below you can find the registered tiger deaths in India.

N – Natural Death
UNP – Unnatural not attributed to poaching ( Including tiger died due to accident, tigers eliminated in conflicts events etc.)
US – Under Scrutiny
P – Poaching  

What To Expect Next?

The future of tigers, with approximately 4,642 remaining in fragmented habitats worldwide, hinges not just on population expansion but also in ‘gene flow’ or the ability of the species to migrate and breed outside their territorial gene pool should be the need of the hour.

Gene flow – both within tiger subspecies and between subspecies separated today by national boundaries – is vital in protecting the existing ‘reserve’ of genetic diversity of this endangered species.

While inbreeding has not yet effected wild tigers, their survival has never been more precarious, their habitat has shrunk to just 7% of historic estimates. Poaching has eliminated a substantial amount of tigers since 2000 worldwide including India and three of the nine subspecies are now extinct – Bali, Javan and Caspian.

The good news is that the Indian subcontinent, which harbours 60% of the world’s wild tiger population, also has significant genetic diversity in the species. But once lost, the reserve genetic diversity will not be regained ‘for million of years, even with higher tiger population’.


Genes And Genetic Variation.

The genes of a species hold its history. Tigers once roamed the length and breadth of India, as well as much of the rest of Asia. Historical records chronicling the animal’s slow fall are bound to be incomplete, but the tiger genome adds to the animal story. We will never know for sure how many tigers once lived. We know that at least 80,000 were killed between the latter decades of the 19th and early 20th centuries, their skins proffered to collect bounty payments in British India, but many were also killed for sport.

One Indian prince killed 1,100 tigers within his lifetime — almost half of India’s tiger population today. The drop in tiger numbers in the 19th century was precipitous enough that it shows up in the tiger genome as a bottleneck, roughly two centuries back: wiping out much of the species’ genetic variation, even as tens of thousands were killed due to hunting and habitat loss. When a species comes close to extinction and then recovers, as the tiger is beginning to do, its struggles are still far from over. Genetic variation can take many thousands of years to return to previous levels.

The African cheetah suffered a severe bottleneck roughly 10,000 years ago, and still has low genetic variation as a result. And in the long run, low genetic variation can mean low resilience for a species. Even if the population is doing well at the moment, it lacks the genetic resources to adapt to a changing environment – rather like an individual with a narrow skill set in a fluctuating job market. 

If the winds change, as they always do, being perfectly adapted to yesterday’s environment may turn into a liability.

Genetic Variation Threatens Tiger Reserves, Even Ranthambore.

Thus, the current study’s finding that the tigers of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan have low genetic variability, in addition to being genetically isolated from tigers in Central and Southern India, is a potential cause for concern. Ranthambore Tiger Reserve is a success story in many respects: its tiger population has grown to such an extent in the last decade that the reserve has started exporting tigers to other protected areas, such as Sariska Tiger Reserve, in order to reduce overpopulation. But a relatively homogeneous gene pool may spell trouble in the long run — both for Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, and reserves like Sariska Tiger Reserve repopulated exclusively with Ranthambore Tiger Reserve’s tigers.

Central India (including the North East) contained the most genetic variation of the three broad genetic clusters identified by the study, with the other two being Ranthambore and South India. However, this storehouse of variation is also under threat, given that tiger reserves tend to be small and physically disconnected, dividing the gene pool into a collection of Noah’s Arks under variable levels of protection. Threats to reserves in Central India include development projects, such as the future widening of National Highway 7 in Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves, and the forthcoming submergence of Panna Tiger Reserve, all in Madhya Pradesh.

Call For Solutions From Indian Government- Like More Corridors.

One way to encourage the flow of tigers (and therefore genes) across an unpredictable, human-filled landscape is to build wildlife corridors. Such corridors would re-connect populations which are genetically close, and were therefore most likely connected in the recent past.

Since the official estimates that established a 30 per cent increase in the wild tiger population were released in January, many conservationists have repeatedly raised concerns over the government of India’s capacity to manage the increased number of tigers.

With the increase in number of tigers in past four years in India, the tiger density in some of the reserves has surpassed their carrying capacity. Therefore, a good number of tigers have either dispersed or are reported to be living outside the reserves, often coming into conflicts with people or becoming easy targets for the poachers

The government so far did not have a strategy to look beyond the tiger reserves and manage the big cats at a landscape level. But now, with an aim to address this problem, the Indian government’s tiger authority (National Tiger Conservation Authority – NTCA) has come up with a set of guidelines to rehabilitate the tigers that are ‘dispersing’ from the densely populated source forests and bring them to suitable forests with low or no tiger density.

On March 18, the NTCA released a “Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for rehabilitation of tigers from source areas at the landscape level” and presented it to the Chief Wildlife Wardens of the tiger-range states and field directors of the tiger reserves. The SOP identifies the population clusters with surplus tigers across the country and suggests areas where they can be relocated. The process for relocation has also been mentioned.  

What Guidelines Say.

With the increase in number of tigers in India, there will be several areas where dispersing tigers will move via human-dominated landscapes and at times result in human-tiger conflict… Often, the main reason for the dispersal of tigers is the high density of the source population. It is important to relocate such tigers to areas of low tiger density (or no tigers but have recorded tiger presence in the historical range), which have good habitat and prey populations. However, care needs to be taken to ensure that such relocations are done within population clusters that share a recent common gene pool,” say the guidelines. Based on the current genetic knowledge of tiger populations and the corridor connectivity, the NTCA has identified population with surplus tigers and the areas where tigers can be relocated.

The need of the hour is to relocate tigers from Non Protected Area’s to Protected Area’s where Tiger density is negligible and also from higher density Protected Area’s to Lower Density Protected Area’s. Along with Habitat management and restoration of corridors for free movement of tigers. As the concern are in today’s tiger conservation is increasing no of deaths due to infighting, poaching and human animal conflict