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A purr of approval

What causes a need to take the latest figures in context is that there is not much to explain the claim of success ~ there has been no marked increase in the “protected” areas, few signs of an expanding prey base, or evidence of the much-desired tiger corridors having become a tangible reality etc.

Editorial | New Delhi |

Gentle purrs of approval, rather than fullthroated celebratory roars of joy will be the likely response of the denizens of the Indian jungle to the political euphoria over the latest head count of tigers in the wild that was announced by the Prime Minister.

Not that there is no cause for elation as the projected figure comes close to tipping the 3,000 mark, but that ignores the success registered between 2006 and 2014 when the numbers rose from an alarming 1411 to 2226: the short point being that the recovery of the big cat is very much a “work in progress”, an effort that was initiated way back in 1972 when Indira Gandhi launched Project Tiger ~ which had its ups and downs.

The all-important point is that successive Prime Ministers, including Mr Narendra Modi’s immediate predecessor, chipped in to sustain the battle for stripes to retain its pride of place in the Indian wilderness. While it would be both incorrect and unfair to question the authenticity of the latest figures, the sceptics would note that all official-sponsored indices ~ not just the economic ones ~ tend to paint rosy pictures when projecting the activities of those presently wielding power.

What causes a need to take the latest figures in context is that there is not much to explain the claim of success ~ there has been no marked increase in the “protected” areas, few signs of an expanding prey base, or evidence of the much-desired tiger corridors having become a tangible reality etc. It might well be that the impressive figures are the fruit of the most intensive and exhaustive survey ever undertaken, with the distinct possibility that some tigers were cameratrapped more than once.

As the old saying goes, “only time well tell…” Still, it remains a matter for pride that forest management, a crackdown on poaching etc, appear to have improved ~ for which the unsung rangers and ill-equipped guards must be duly feted And, of course, the political signal that preserving the tiger is a national priority. As well as the message that a due balance has to be maintained between conservation and “development”.

Those managing the parks must be cautioned against letting the “profits” from wildlife tourism “kill the goose that lays the golden egg.” The tiger is essentially at the apex of an elaborate eco-system, it cannot thrive in isolation. So there is urgent need to ensure that the recent positive signs do not result in complacency. The pressure that humans put on forests will continue, man-animal conflicts will not end by references to the silver screen.

There is so much more to be done and courts alone cannot thwart attempts at building roads or railways through protested areas. To put it bluntly: neither poacher nor lynch mob has a place in a democratic society. True civilisation is made of sterner stuff.