Sunday 27 May 2012

The Abandoned Tiger

People who care about the domestic cat, who keep and love a domestic cat do not necessarily care about the tiger. This is not a criticism. You can like cats but the tiger and wild cats generally are different. They are somewhere else - in the wild. We are no longer connected to the wild. In fact we don't want any more wild places. We just want to control the whole planet. Wild places by definition are out of our control.

Good people in Europe and North America who have learnt about the domestic cat and do a good job in caring for their cat through experience and knowledge often know little about the tiger. This beast is out there somewhere, thousands of miles away in wood or forest, slinking around avoiding humans. A lack of knowledge about the tiger leads to a lack of action to protect the tiger. Combine that with a long history of poor and corrupt management in the places where the tiger lives and you have the abandoned tiger. It actually goes beyond that; people are fearful of the tiger. They want rid of it. There is no place for the tiger on the planet in the modern age.

I think it is fair to say that many of the world's experts on tiger conservation see that the tiger cannot and will not survive on this planet in the wild much longer. Communally we have abandoned the tiger to commercial exploitation and to being pushed out of its habitat.

Valmik Taper makes an emotional plea for sanity in a very scientific book on the tiger published in 1999: Riding the Tiger - Tiger conservation in human dominated landscapes. The title tells us the problem. The tiger is now forced to live in human dominated landscapes. There is no longer any room for the tiger except in the far north in the Himalayas in Bhutan perhaps. Even that won't last.

The Bengal tiger is a subspecies of tiger. It is the most numerous by far of the remaining tiger subspecies. It mainly lives in India. Valmik Taper says that 50% of the entire wild  tiger population lives in India. He makes these points which I have summarised because on the internet people want to skim and move on:
  • Large areas of forest in the north and west of India have disappeared.  This is the home of the tiger. Island habitats are left. (my comment: will they survive and can the tiger survive in these small areas)
  • The problems in conservation of the tiger "mount" he says. In other words they are getting worse and we are not making progress.
  • In 1999 there were 23 Tiger Project reserves, total area: 33,000 square kms. Of this total he says that about one third of this area is almost lost and one third has an "uncertain future". The remaining third may be saved.
  • Outside the Tiger Project reserves the tiger's habitat is even more precarious.
  • There is "endless pressure on habitat, incessant poaching, and...unplanned large scale development..." (such as mining and dams etc.). 
  • There is a persistent lack of political will to protect the tiger (my comment: I don't think the politicians of India want to save the tiger because it gets in the way of big business and politicians and big business are great friends).
  • Valmik Taper says that the lack of political will is due to a change in the political landscape. Where there was once a single large political party, the Congress Party, there are now 11 different parties that "rule the Tiger States". The federal government has power in 2 of them. You can see the problem. Political will has been "dissipated" he says.
  • As to the management of financing the Tiger Project, it is chaotic and tortuous, nothing less. The delivery of funding is far to slow preventing effective management on the ground.
  • There is a lack of understanding of wildlife amongst people in authority.
  • There are occasions when the authorities have not enforced the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 (Act) allowing mining in the Madhav National Park for instance. 16 square kms were lost. The Act is interpreted on the whims of ministers ignoring the purpose of the Act.
  • India is being modernised. It is becoming much more of a consumer society. (my comment: consumerism works against tiger conservation because it inevitably leads to the use and abuse of natural resources for financial profit).
  • "Timber mafias", (Valmik Taper's phrase, a great phrase), "rip great scars in the vital corridors that link habitats together". Well said.
  • Even traditional ways are criticised by Valmik Taper. And rightly so. Mass tribal hunts that take place annually results in large numbers of tiger prey being killed.
Valmik Taper proposes a number of solutions. I don't feel inclined to discuss them here because I don't think they will be implemented. This is because of the lack of political will that Mr Taper so eloquently writes about. Without the will and coordination of India's leaders, nothing will happen.

Note: The book's ISBN is 0-521-64835-1 Cambridge University Press.

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