Striped lion

When the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) was rolled out in 2010, it announced the exigency and intent in rather dramatic terms.

The programme, endorsed in the St Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation, was billed as the “last best hope for tigers”. Inaction could lead to extinction of the “world’s most magnificent species”, the programme’s executive summary had warned. Nine years into the ambitious programme, designed over the period between 2010 and 2022, the intent appears to have translated to a rise in the number of big cats in India, one of the 13 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) in the GTRP.

The TRCs’ shared goal of doubling the number of tigers globally by 2022 could still be viewed as unrealistic but conservationists see in these numbers a possibility to optimise ongoing efforts — in restoring a depleted prey base, reviving habitats, building new resources for site-specific strategies and more crucially, in improving protection of forests with minimal conflict.

Y V Jhala, scientist at the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, sees in the task for 2022 a “good target for politicians” to work toward and feels that the post-2010 thrust has, despite setbacks in some of the TRCs, had impressive returns. The senior scientist is working on the 2018 tiger census, a project that monitors the status of tigers, co-predators, prey and their habitat in India. The report is scheduled to be released by the end of July.

Daily Star tiger

Research estimates there are fewer than 4,000 of the big cats left in the wild. A century ago there were around 80,000.

The crisis is blamed on poachers and trophy hunters. Economic development is also a major factor in their decline because it ruins their habitat.

Campaigner Martin Hughes-Games has been studying the tiger count in India, which accounts for 60% of those left.

He said: “India is a country that’s industrialising incredibly fast. There are roads and railway lines and industries everywhere you look.

Malayan tiger under threat

Recently a tiger walked down the main thoroughfare of Kampung Besul (video here), a village in the north coastal state of Terengganu, sending villagers fleeing in all directions. The cat, dubbed the “friendly tiger” because it did no one any harm, later died of canine distemper disorder, which probably explains why it “went tame” and strolled through the town.

Malaysia is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth, and the rain forests of Peninsular Malaysia, along with those of southern Thailand, are the oldest on the planet. If anything, the death of the cat is emblematic of the peril to the country’s quickly-vanishing wildlife as urbanization, poachers and other problems eat into not just the tigers’ habitat but create a wide range of problems for other species as well.

The spread of canine distemper disorder into the wild cat population is very bad news on its own. A deadly virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous system, it is often spread to wild cats and dholes – wild dogs — in Asia from the feces left behind from hunting dogs and domesticated dogs which wander into wildlife habitat. According to another report, two tigers were seen prowling around the village, with a pregnant woman claiming a big cat chased her for 300 meters while she was riding her motorbike. Apparently one of the two was caught, later dying of distemper. The other escaped. It is still being sought.

Indian protests

On the morning of 18 July, Rafiqul Islam, a resident of Bagori, on the western fringes of Kaziranga National Park, was surprised to find a tiger sitting on his bed. Islam, who is used to wild animals around his shack didn’t panic and his presence of mind avoided a fatal encounter. An ‘SOS’ call from him got the Assam Forest Department and the animal rescue team from International Fund for Animal Welfare – Wildlife Trust Of India (IFAW-WTI) to sanitise the area and provide a safe passage to the tiger, which moved out on its own later in the day.

The photograph of a Bengal Tiger resting on a floral-print bed sheet, it’s head next to a carry bag with the words ‘Billion Choice’ is the defining image of this year’s floods in Kaziranga – of what happens to wild animals on the move in times of trouble. Clicked by Samshuli Ali, veterinarian at the IFAW-WTI, the picture has gone viral across social media platforms and is still trending across the world.

Floods are usually associated with loss of life and business, yet they are also part of a natural process that creates fertile lands for agriculture, replenishes wetlands and riverine grassland ecosystem. Floodwaters of the river Brahmaputra are key to the ecology of Kaziranga. Annual flooding revitalises the famed grasslands, which shelter keystone species such as rhinos, tigers and elephants.

Big tiger in trouble

Sundarbans tiger