International Tiger Day 2019: For India, talking tiger conservation is more crucial now than ever

By the year 2070, the entire Bengal tiger population in the Sundarbans is likely to be lost to climate change & sea-level rise.

Established in 2010 at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit, 29 July is a day dedicated to awareness and support worldwide to conserve the tiger. It was just a century ago that fewer than 1,00,000 tigers roamed in Asia. Today, that number has dropped dramatically to 3,000 in the wild.

Large efforts to preserve the national animal of India, particularly Project Tiger to conserve Royal Bengal Tigers in the wild, are seen to be generally successful. However, there are still four main issues — poaching, habitat destruction, man-animal conflict, and diminishing prey base — that continue to threaten the future of the most iconic big cat in India.

The natural habitats of these big cats (and many other species of wildlife) continue to thin as their territories grow fragmented, artificial and more distant from each other, cutting tigers off from their kind. Poaching and trading of tiger parts are less of an issue today than it was decades ago but it continues to plague conservation efforts to an extent. Encroachments into Protected Areas in forests is both inevitable and destructive to traditional forests and farmland, reducing green cover. As the size of wildlife reserves shrink, another big problem arises: conflict of tigers with humans in adjoining habitats.

 International Tiger Day 2019: For India, talking tiger conservation is more crucial now than ever

A Royal Bengal tiger. Image: Wikimedia Commons

(Also read: International Tiger Day 2019: Project tiger, a homegrown Indian conservation success story)

In 2010, a panel of experts at the St Petersburg Tiger Summit declared a clear, global goal for tiger conservation: to double tiger populations in the wild by 2022. At the Summit, the Global Tiger Recovery Programme was established, the 13 tiger countries around the world agreed to meet again and raise additional funds for the recovery plans in a year. During the next monitoring meet in December 2011, the delegations locked down a long-term financial plan, according to the WHO. Also, 29 July was marked as Global Tiger Day. The day would be an important one in wildlife conservation and awareness, to promote the protection of natural tiger habitats (like the degrading Sunderbans delta, home to the Royal Bengal Tiger) and raise awareness and support for tiger conservation issues.

(Also read: Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans on a rapid decline, may go extinct by 2070, study finds)

Fifty years from now, by the year 2070, the entire Bengal tigers population in the Sundarbans is likely to be lost to climate change and sea-level rise, according to a modelling study by a team of researchers from Bangladesh and Australia. The Sundarbans are the world’s single-largest mangrove ecosystem still in existence, spanning a vast area of more than 6,000 sq km. It is also "the last (natural) stronghold" of the Bengal tiger, which is adapted to living in swamps of the Sunderbans delta. Almost 70 percent of the Sundarbans are currently within a metre of actual sea level. Rising water levels are a significant threat to low-lying areas, and the tiger habitats of Sundarbans are particularly vulnerable to it. Conversations about tigers are more crucial now than ever for India.

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