The year 2009 saw 59 tigers falling prey to poaching and man-animal conflicts, the highest figure in the past three years.
A government report also showed that 17 tiger reserves in the country are under population depletion threat.
Painting a grim picture of what holds in the future for them, the government assessment of 38 tiger reserves notes that 17 sanctuaries are in a very precarious condition and could be on the way to become like Sariska and Panna, both infamous for loss of resident big cats.
Worldwide, there are around 3,000 tigers left in the wild, of which 1,411 are in India as per the latest census.
The country is gearing up to conduct a fresh tiger census based on a more scientific method, which will include use of camera traps to identifying the felines from their stripes.
Demand for their skin and bones and degradation of natural habitat due to encroachment are making the wildcat vulnerable.
A tiger can sell for around $ 1,500, but when its body parts are sold, the value can soar to $ 50,000 in view of ever-increasing demand from countries like China which uses the products for preparing traditional medicines.
Besides poaching, insurgency too poses a serious challenge as protection of the predators have become difficult in the naxal-hit areas. This was evident in Simplipal in Orissa where Maoists attacked infrastructure facilities for forest officials.
Buxa in West Bengal, Indiravati in Chhattisgarh, Palamu in Jharkhand, Valmiki in Bihar, Kalkakkad Mundanthurai in Tamil Nadu and Namdumpha in Arunachal Pradesh continued to face tiger crisis.
To make the reserves safer for the animal, the relocation process of 100,000 villages continued during the year but only 3,000 of them have been shifted from the sanctuary areas.
However, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh pledged that “We are not going to compromise on ecological security in the name of development”. Mr. Ramesh took an unusual initiative by refusing environment clearance for two coal mining projects near Maharashtra’s Tadoba Andhari tiger reserve.
Besides doubling the budgetary allocation for the Tiger Project to Rs.184 cr in 2009-0 from Rs. 72 cr in 2008-09, the government announced a slew of measures during the year to save the striped cats from extinction.
In a major decision, Mr. Ramesh declared plans to hold World Tiger Summit later next year to draw global attention to their survival and protection.
Signing of a tripartite agreement between the tiger-range states, the Centre and the reserves’ directors, making them accountable for the health of the endangered species, was another major initiative during 2009.
Central aid was promised for creation of Special Task Force involving local people like the Van Gujjars in tiger reserves with the conviction that without their participation protection of wildlife is impossible.
The government also set forth its plans to give state governments a direct stake in tiger conservation and the government’s 26-year-old Project Tiger to make them accountable for its protection.
To curb wildlife crime and poachers’ network, government initiated the process of amending the four-decade-old wildlife legislation envisaging stricter punishment.
With tiger relocation becoming the buzzword as in the case of Sariska and Panna where a few striped cats were moved, the government, for the first time, formulated regulations for shifting of the big cats from one reserve to another.
The Madhya Pradesh government came under flak from the Centre for “failing” to take steps to protect the big cat whether it was signing of a tripartite pact or tiger relocation programmes or the issue of radio-collaring.
At the global level, the government’s initiative to save big cats received a major boost with an international convention on International Trade in Endangered Species seeking action taken report from countries like China.
During the year, CBI busted two international rackets of wildlife traffickers who used to obtain tiger and leopard skin from poachers across the country.