Royal Bengal Tiger Bachao
June 2008: Despite enhanced awareness about the impact of deforestation on public health, soils and the water security of India, the pace of deforestation is quicker than ever before in India’s history. This has serious consequences for our economy and the quality of life of our people, primarily because, apart from burning fossil fuel, deforestation is one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gases.
The fault for the climate crisis can justifiably be laid at the door of the United States, but India is going to be one of its first and most serious victims because our water and food security and, therefore, our economic security is imminently at risk.
Fortunately, much of the damage that we have inflicted on ourselves is reparable. One very reliable way to do this is to help protect the forests in which wild tigers are still found. It is a matter of deep concern that in just over three decades since Project Tiger was born, India has lost more than 50 per cent of all its viable tiger habitats. This has involved a loss of 150,000 sq. km. of forested land that once zealously held on to its stored carbon. Commercial exploitation of tiger habitats in India continues to be a serious threat and, even more than poaching, this could end up wiping out the species.
Mines, dams, roads, pollution from thermal plants, prawn farms, monoculture plantations and commercial logging – all combine to destroy tiger forests. And this destruction aggravates our climate crisis.
The way forward Restoring health to, and protecting, forests is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways to save the royal Bengal tiger and is simultaneously an effective way to mitigate climate change. Additionally, as almost any young child will also confirm, saving the tiger ends up saving our purest water sources and a host of biodiversity.
As of now, around one per cent of India’s landmass is protected under the mantle of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), which has taken over the reins from Project Tiger. We must find ways to expand the tiger’s range. Experts such as Dr. Ullas Karanth believe that it is within the realm of feasibility to dramatically increase the land area available to tigers. If we are able to win national consensus on the wisdom of setting aside larger landscapes, we could demonstrate to the world that we have taken proactive steps to mitigate the worst global climate change impacts. In the process, if we are able to scientifically manage and protect these forests, the number of tigers in India could conceivably rise from 1,000 to around 10,000 – a 10-fold increase!
The tiger has many friends and the need of the hour now is to rally them to prevent what is otherwise turning into a ‘chronicle of a disaster foretold’. One such friend who has come forward is Joachim von der Heydt, Founder and Partner, Bengal Tiger Line. He says, “At BTL, we believe in playing our part in protecting the wilderness as this is crucial to the survival of human beings. The Bengal Tiger Bachao campaign allows BTL to give something back to the tiger, which has been our true inspiration for over two decades.” Sanctuary and Bengal Tiger Line have reached out to scores of NGOs, forest officers and experts to pool strengths. This has involved a journey of exploration and great strides have been made in building bridges between government and non-government agencies.