Tiger Population Decline

The beast surely faced a big risk of being extinct in India but with sufficient conservative initiative, the outlook seems promising.  From perhaps less than 1400 tigers in the country, the population now touches around 3000. This has certainly been no small achievement.   

Tiger Population 20th 

At the turn of the 20th century, the estimated population of big cats was more than a hundred thousand spread all over the country. This was the period in which hunting had started on a large scale and habitats were being replaced with agriculture or commercial forestry. Although the impact was not immediate the rot had set in and led to further damage whence monetary incentive was doled out to kill wild animals in India by the ruling British to get rid of the vermin in which the tiger was also included.  This was disastrous as animals like wolves, jackal, hyena, fox, leopard, and tiger were culled in large numbers. 

Hunting by the elites was a major scourge that added to this massacre and it was responsible for local extinction at many places.  

Indian Tiger

Post Independence 

Post-independence the population had come down strikingly low from estimated forty thousand to + – 1400. The die was cast and something had to be done if this magnificent predator had to make a return. Thankfully India had become a republic  (1950 ) the British had left and the local realms had been included in the newly born republic with no administrative controls.         

Under the new domain, the animals continued to be hunted, and their habitats are taken over by humans for agrarian purposes. The fast-growing population was making its presence felt and hungry stomachs had to be fed. This lead to an extensive takeover of wild habitats in all types of ecosystems to facilitate agriculture and to settle the ever-growing communities. This was one of the main reasons for the reduction in the population of tigers in India. The habitats were trampled over thoughtlessly to feed the masses. 

Commercial Forestry in India      

Systemic exploitation of forests is a recent phenomenon in India if the historic time scale is taken into account. Perhaps it all started post-1850 whence commercial forestry began during the Raj. This also implies that large-scale forests were cleared in India for commercial purposes accentuated by the industrial revolution in Great Britain.   

Commercial Forestry Slide Show

Extensive deforestation in the country took place from 1880 onward to 1920. There are many reasons for extensive deforestation during the British rule but we should also take into the account overflowing population and the subsequent need for food and settlement. 

Deforestation, commercial exploitation, and human takeover of ecosystems continued in the country till the rot was stemmed somewhat. But by the time corrective action had been taken the tiger population in the country had come down drastically and extinction seemed inevitable. 

Tigers were still hunted under license, and one could shoot the predator in the allotted area for a price as low as Rs.45 less than 1 $.  This bewildering anomaly in the system was caused by little understanding of nature especially wildlife and forests that maintained an equilibrium capable of sustaining life including that of humans. 

Nevertheless, India is a country with a strong conservation ethos that was inculcated during the Vedic Era some five thousand plus years back. 

Wildlife Protection Act 1972

In 1972 corrective action was taken in form of the Wildlife Protection Act. which prohibited the killing of all animals except those that fell under the purview of livestock. This was a wonderful law the effect of which is quite prevalent now. Wild animal populations are on the rise everywhere in the country and the incidence of poaching has come down. The Act also accords protection to floral elements.    

Under this Act, there are provisions to notify the area as sacrosanct. This has lead to the creation of Protected Areas. The PAs are divided into inviolate core zone which is the critical tiger habitat and buffer or eco-sensitive zone. The latter is an outer ring with some restrictions where the source population can settle down in case of a lack of territory. 

Project Tiger Program 1973

NTCA or National Tiger Conservation Authority is at the helm of Project Tiger. The policies are framed under this organization. This body also regulates and overseas tiger tourism in conjunction with State Governments and with the participation of local bodies. 

Although the implementation of this conservative initiative was done euphemistically there were periods of complacency till cases of mass killing of tigers in Panna and Sariska shook the Nation. The program has been successful of late with the population rising to 3000 in about fifty tiger reserves spread across the country.     

Survival of Tiger in India

The most important factor that will help the animal survive is political will. Political initiatives taken at the top are important for the survival of this critically endangered species. This becomes imperative in case of the strong impetus for urbanization and industrialization taking place at the present juncture. The ruling dispensations, the policymakers within should accord immense consideration for natural area preservation without any concession to unplanned development and resource extraction agenda.    

Preservation of tiger habits is imperative to save the species besides as much increase as possible of the core area. Thus the protected areas with inviolate core are of utmost importance and should remain till eternity in the habitats now terribly constricted by humans and their overpopulated livestock. 

But PAs are not eternal…in case of political infringement if the status is diluted or abrogated that would lead to certain extinction of the tiger. Although a strong framework guarantees prevention of such anomalies it is all under the control of humans. There are no natural factors or barriers that prevent violation of critical tiger habitats the predator is entirely at the mercy of humans. 

Creation of corridors, although this has been construed as vital for the prevention of inbreeding and to accord free movement to wildlife the implementation is at best on papers. A strong political will is required in order to relocate settlements from these sensitive and fragile habitats that could form a viable connection. But mass relocation seems to be too overwhelming for the system.   

In India, there is a tribe of organizations that are strong detractors of the inviolate core area concept and often act as a pressure group against the implementation of strong conservative measures.  

Understanding the behavioral characteristics of tigers is very important. As an ambush hunter, it is dependant upon the thick canopy of dense forest and tall grasslands and thus this virtue makes it vulnerable to habitat degradation since it cannot survive in the open country unlike the leopard and the lion.      

Political initiatives are imperative at all levels of administration especially in the vicinity of the PAs. The initiatives should be favorable towards conservation and prevent biotic interference and commercialization. 

Albeit the forest management in charge of PAs is efficient and dedicated…lacunae in the system should be amended and corrupt elements should be weeded out.  

Poaching through reduced due to stringent patrolling is still an issue and cases of electrocution, snaring, and hunting are still prevalent. Tigers are being lost annually in such incidences. The demand for bones and parts of the big cats is very much prevalent in the countries wherever TCM is popular. Thus the threat of poaching and resultant illegal trade in wildlife looms large over our tiger landscapes.   

Eco-development is playing a key role in preventing the alienation of local communities which play a major conservation role in and around the PAs.  Economic development through employment and empowerment is essential in this aspect and tourism and jobs in the forest department are playing a vital role.  

India has a long way to go in order to save the tiger eternally. Although the present trend of increasing population is exhilarating there is no room for complacency.   

Will the tiger be extinct in India?

No! This, if the current trend is taken into consideration and corrective measures are vigorously implemented. The animal will survive until in unforeseen circumstances the threat becomes a reality.   


Uday Works as Freelance Naturalist and Blogs on conservation, tigers, environmental issues.

He also provides SEO and Website Contents in English. He teaches Digital Marketing in Jabalpur in Summers.

He can be contacted at:

Mail: pateluday90@hotmail.com
 Mob: 09755089323


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.