New Delhi: Around five decades ago, the tiger population in India had reached the brink of extinction. Now, India has over 3,000 tigers in the wild, which is over 70 percent of the world's total tiger population. India has not just managed to save tigers but doubled the population.
Tiger conservation is one of many such successful wildlife conservation stories that India has presented before the world. India has been one of the most populous countries and the forest cover is just a quarter of its total geographical area. Yet, the various conservation programs implemented by India over the years, that too without affecting its industrial and economic growth, led to the protection of its rich biodiversity.
There were estimated to be over 100,000 tigers in India at the turn of the twentieth century. However, the poaching and hunting game led to a drastic decline in tiger numbers. India launched 'Project Tiger' in 1972, which saw adoption of different approaches to protect tigers. India's achievement is commendable when the tiger population in other tiger range countries is either declining or has stopped growing. Lao PDR, Singapore, Cambodia, and Hong Kong have already lost their tigers. India's efforts are sustainable, smart, and technology-driven. Radio collars are used to track the movement and monitor the behavior of wild tigers. It helped the government and researchers plan conservation activities in effective ways.
The success of Project Tiger led to the launch of Project Elephant in the 1990s to protect free-ranging Asian elephants in their habitats across India. There are over 30,000 elephants in India now, and most of them are in safe zones as India has established 31 elephant reserves so far.
Moreover, India has notified several sanctuaries to protect small, endangered wildlife species, including marine species. There are several bird sanctuaries as well. India has come up with mitigation measures to prevent human-animal conflict. Besides public awareness and optimum compensation, India has resorted to the use of innovations and technology to avoid encounters between people and wildlife. Genetic profiling was brought to use to thwart possible conflicts between elephants and humans in traditional areas.
India has just 2 percent of the world’s total forest area but its wildlife is expansive as it is home to 91,000 animal species. It is home to some of the world's majestic and endangered animals such as tigers, elephants, rhinos, and leopards. Barring a few incidences of conflict, a harmonious relationship can be seen between the local wildlife and India’s 1.4 billion population.
The government of India has time and again enacted several legislations and formulated policies to meet different challenges to wildlife protection in the country. Their effectiveness can be gauged from the success of Project Tiger and Project Elephant.
The wisdom to conserve nature and protect biodiversity is rooted in the culture and history of India. Even religious practices have helped preserve vast areas of forests that provided secured habitats to several endangered species. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, tribals communities are engaged in conserving nature through their cultural and religious practices.
Annu Jalais, author and professor from Southern India, said "Villagers believe every creature has its right place. They don't take the environment or the resources for granted. They worship the forests as it gives [local people] everything they need to lead a sustainable life."
Taking a cue from living in harmony with nature, the government of India has been encouraging ecotourism that engages rural and forest-dependent communities in conservation activities. The sustainable revenue generation through non-exploitive activities in the forest areas has facilitated the participation of people in the environment and forest conservation as well as improves the well-being of local people.
The government of India has taken utmost care of not hurting people's rights or rural livelihoods when conservation activities are carried out. Campaigns and schemes like Joint Forest Management (JFM) and Community Forest Management have brought positive changes through participation and cooperation from local people in the management of natural resources.