Dance Of Death
April 2008: After a decade of denial by wildlife officials, the truth is out. Wild tigers are being taken down. According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, we have lost half of all wild tigers that existed in India less than five years ago. Even granting that five years ago, the number of tigers was nowhere near what Project Tiger had been claiming, today’s figures are nothing short of depressing.
A combination of habitat destruction and a revitalised international wildlife trade has hammered tigers to the point of extinction. Here is a truth I would like our Prime Minister to accept: There are fewer wild tigers alive today (1,400 or so) than the day Project Tiger was launched in 1973 (possibly around 2,000). Frankly, in my view, even the 1,400 is an exaggeration. The exhaustive field work conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India was completed over a year ago and since then, not a single day has gone by without some report or other about tigers being poisoned by villagers, slaughtered by poachers, run over by vehicles, or turning up as skins and bones in confiscated contraband.
In reply to the oft-asked question: “So how many tigers are there in India today?” my answer therefore is: “Under 1,000 and dropping like a stone.”
Why should tigers not die in India? Our Prime Minister certainly seems apathetic to their fate. The Chief Minister of Orissa can’t see beyond his mines and ports. And when was the last time you heard the Finance Minister, Commerce Minister or Agriculture Minister make a public statement about the need to prevent the tiger’s imminent demise? This is not ‘out of their purview’ as some may presume. The survival of natural India – including its agriculture, commerce and water supply – depends on our ability to keep natural ecosystems, including tiger forests, alive. Almost anyone who understands the cause and effect of climate change knows this.
Over one million Kids for Tigers, some of whom are seen here on Mumbai’s Marine Drive during a public rally with the famous Huli Vesha dancers of Karnataka, have been working hard to protect wild tigers for almost a decade. They are trying to wake adults from the lethal slumber that threatens the ecological future of India. Each one of us should be working with these kids, the way NDTV chose to do with such remarkable success.
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXVIII No. 2 April 2008