We are in the “Anthropocene” epoch, marked by ongoing human induced transformations in wilderness globally. No country is an exception to this phenomena, which unfortunately treats the green capital as a “commodity”.
Why such transformations matter to us? Well, this should concern us because it affects our life support system.
Species like the tiger are indicators of the well being of an ecosystem. If things are in order and the forest habitat supports a good tiger population with a great turnover, we can be rest assured that the plethora of ecosystem services would continue to be available, apart from gains of adaptation to climate change through locked up carbon and natural water provisioning in tiger bearing forests.
The ground situation is not all that tranquil. In the context of tiger, the global status continues to be alarming. Tiger Range Countries in the South Asian Region have fared well. India deserves all credit for improving tiger governance and housing more than 70% of the global tiger population. The country has already declared 52 tiger reserves spread over 2.3% of its geographical area.
Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal have also put in concerted efforts, with their wild tiger status at optimal levels.
However, the South-East Asian Region is a cause for concern. Wild tiger status is suboptimal and almost nearing extinction in South Mekong basin countries like Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam. Malaysia has managerial issues in several areas. The overall contours of forests have changed with large scale palm oil plantations. There is an urgent need for more boots on the ground, with frequent seizures of snares from several protected areas. But the passion and sincerity of Malaysia to do for the tiger is adorable. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks has taken several good actions, which includes the vision for a task force to coordinate the tiger agenda, apart from the ongoing country level tiger estimation. With GTF facilitation, Malaysia and Thailand have also interacted at the official level to explore formal collaboration on the tiger front. Malaysia is all poised for hosting the 4th Asia Ministerial Conference on the Tiger by the end of this year.
Indonesia and Thailand remain as strongholds in the region for the wild tiger. Thailand is keen to embark on active management to build up the natural prey. The country has several SMART protocols, including the day to day tiger monitoring by professionally equipped frontline teams.
Both Malaysia and Thailand have evinced great interest in doing more, and officials from both countries visited Kanha in the not so distant past for on-ground experience in tiger rewilding and prey augmentation.
Myanmar has immense potential. The GTF team was lucky to see a pugmark on the very first day of their visit to the Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary. The tiger planning exercise undertaken by the Forum was a great collaborative effort, supported by the USAID.
China and Russia share a border, where both countries zealously monitor the moving Amur tigers. This is interesting. Russia has strengthened its tiger governance, with the population showing an upward trend. The country is also hosting the second tiger summit in 2022. China is keen too on this front, with a pilot effort for declaration of a large north-east Amur leopard and Tiger National Park.
Barring tiger range countries of South Asia, Russia, Indonesia and Thailand, others have suboptimal levels of wild tiger populations with local extinctions in Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Though countries like Cambodia are keen to translocate wild tigers, threat assessment, mitigations, need to be carried out based on normative standards of performance with adequate deployment. At places, co-opting other enforcement agencies, including police, and army on deputation to the wildlife department may also be necessary. The Global Tiger Forum is mandated to implement the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP), a commitment of all tiger range countries towards doubling their tiger numbers.
The National Tiger Recovery Priorities (NTRPs) of sovereign tiger range countries, need to be part of a regional action plan to effectively implement actions for the tiger, as a collective responsibility. The sovereign subject of wild tiger management is too serious an issue to be ignored. It requires actions from all stakeholders, who operate in a tiger landscape. There is a need for incentive based community stewardship, with commitment for gains under Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES). Active transnational actions are required for addressing trafficking of body parts of wild animals. More funding from range countries with innovative, complementary support through business models and donors is also called for in South-East Asia. Any investment on the tiger front, adds more to the commitment on climate action. Tiger investments safeguard our life support system through ecosystem services from tiger forests. Such forests also safeguard natural zoonotic cycles to prevent eruption of vector-borne epidemics.
The prevailing pandemic and climate events have given us a wake up call. We need to do more to save the tiger, and other denizens of forests for our own well-being.
(Dr. Rajesh Gopal is Secretary General, Global Tiger Forum and former Member Secretary of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Mohnish Kapoor is Head - Programme and Partnerships, Global Tiger Forum. Views expressed in this article are personal and may not necessarily reflect the views of Outlook Magazine.)