In the jungles of India, tigers once were once easily sighted to the delight of big-gamers and traders of the time. But their numbers dwindled, fading from thousands to a mere few.
E.P. Gee, a renowned naturalist and conservationist, had previously estimated that these regal felines numbered around 40,000 at the turn of the century. However, the mid-20th century brought a chilling twist to this tale. The tiger’s population dwindled, shrinking to a tiny shadow of its former glory. The count dropped to a meager 2,000 to 4,000, akin to a whisper lost in the wind.
Alarmed, the Indian Board for Wild Life (IBWL) declared a ban on the export of wildcat skins in July 1969. The same year, the 10th Assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) met in Delhi and joined this noble cause, sounding the alarm and placing the tiger on its endangered species list.
The Indian Prime Minister at the time, Indira Gandhi, was also a keen advocate for wildlife protection and took notice. After a letter from WWF trustee Guy Mountfort, she assembled a team of experts to count and estimate the population of tigers in India’s wild. The numbers were dangling at a thin 1,863. The group of 11 specialists, also referred to as Tiger Task Force (1970), came back to her with a plan to rescue the species from the brink of extinction. In 1972, they presented a report that held the key to the tiger’s survival in India: management systems, the administrative framework, and legal provisions. They recommended eight tiger forests to be included in a focused conservation project. India’s Tiger conservation mission was initiated.
On April 1, 1973, the government of India with assistance from the World Wildlife Fund inaugurated Project Tiger at the Corbett Tiger Reserve, along with nine other tiger reserves adding additional habitat. Today, Project Tiger covers fifty-one reserves, spread out in eighteen states of India.
The All-India Team
During the fifth cycle of the exercise in 2022, the process of data collection underwent a digital transformation. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), in partnership with global experts and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), leveraged the power of technology to analyze more than 47 million wildlife photographs captured through camera trapping across 174 sites in India. This digital approach yielded invaluable insights into tiger populations, enabling a more accurate assessment of their numbers throughout the country.
The on-ground team was comprised of approximately 200 forest officers who have the training and skills to combat poaching, illegal wildlife trade, and other threats to tiger populations. Nearly 20,000 uniformed field staff members monitored the tiger populations, carried out anti-poaching patrols, and engage in habitat management activities. And around 30,000 contractual support staff members were engaged in various roles such as data collection, research, habitat restoration, and community engagement programs.
Management Effectiveness Evaluation
The WII and NTCA collaborated closely to establish an independent evaluation procedure for assessing the Tiger Reserves in India. By adopting the criteria and indicators set forth by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas Framework, a Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) was conducted. These evaluations encompassed various aspects, including design considerations, the adequacy of management systems, and the achievement of conservation objectives.
To support the frontline forest staff , the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NCTA) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Aid for Mankind in October 2022. The collaboration aims to provide essential life support training and healthcare to these dedicated individuals stationed at Tiger Reserves across India.
The funding for Project Tiger is a part of an ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS-PT) and the resources are divided into two categories: “Non-Recurring” and “Recurring” activities. Under the CSS-PT, the government of India, through the NTCA, shares the funding burden with state governments based on specific arrangements. The ratio of funding patterns varies from state to state.
Tiger reserves submit their proposals through the Annual Plan of Operations (APO) to the NTCA, overseen by the State’s Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW). These proposals are reviewed, taking into account the prescriptions outlined in the Tiger Conservation Plan (TCP) of each respective reserve. Once approved, the funds are released by the NTCA to the tiger reserves through the state governments. Moreover, financial assistance is also extended to tiger-bearing areas outside the reserves.
To bring in additional revenue, a Tiger Conservation Authority Fund has been established. This fund aims to garner contributions under corporate social responsibilities (CSR).
- View the Project Tiger Achievement Book
- Kailash Sankhala: Known as the “Father of Project Tiger,” who played a crucial role in conceptualizing and implementing Project Tiger. Read more
- J. Daniel: His paper ‘The Tiger in India: An enquiry – 1968–69’ served as a catalyst for the inception of Project Tiger. Read more about him.
- Dr. Salim Ali: Although not directly associated with Project Tiger, his work as an ornithologist, provided crucial insights into creating a conservation framework. His friendship with Indira Gandhi is believed to have nudged the Project Tiger initiative further.
- Fateh Singh Rathore: Renowned wildlife conservationist and instrumental in the establishment and management of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Read more
- Billy Arjan Singh: Indian conservationist and author who contributed to the establishment of Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. Read more
- M. Krishnan: Wildlife photographer and naturalist who played a vital role in the establishment of Bandipur National Park. Read more
About Asia Transpacific Journeys (ATJ):
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Background of Project Tiger:
ATJ’s strong in-country partners provide great access and connectivity with humanitarian and conservation projects going on throughout Asia and the Pacific. Our aim is to highlight these projects and encourage our travelers to become aware of all the good work being done. Whenever possible, we will build in a visit to a project on our itineraries, so that our travelers and staff can witness first-hand the local and communal impact these efforts have to their cause, big or small.
ATJ learned of Project Tiger through our partner in India, and we found it to offer interesting and important context for the past, present, and future of tiger conservation.
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