Earning its stripes

Anti-poaching measures in Nepal have raised its tiger population. India presents a tragic contrast

For once, a tiger survey gives cause for cheer. In Nepal, the number of tigers has risen from 121 in 2008 to 198 in 2012, an increase of 63.6 per cent. The survey was conducted on the Nepal side of the Terai Arc Landscape; results of a parallel survey conducted on the Indian side will be released in December. Nepal's success with conservation stems largely from the government's crackdown on poaching. It has set up a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and deployed army and police personnel to patrol the parks for poachers. Crucially, local communities, once co-opted into the illegal trade in tiger parts, have been involved in the conservation effort.

India's anti-poaching measures present a tragic contrast. At least 78 tiger deaths were recorded in 2012, most of them killed by poachers. Yet, there is an absence of sustained and consistent conservation efforts, and a proliferation of blunt instruments and knee-jerk actions, such as the Supreme Court ban on tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves last year. Or the maximalist measures announced by panicky state governments jolted by a surge in tiger deaths, the Maharashtra government issued a shoot-at-sight order against poachers last May. The country's first anti-poaching unit was introduced only last year, with the formation of the new Special Tiger Protection Force, which spans across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

But a rise in tiger numbers in Nepal has come with its costs. Man-animal conflicts have risen in the Terai, as the growing population of tigers spills out of its shrinking terrain. This worrying trend has been observed in reserves across India as well. It points to a need to broaden the project of conservation, to balance the interests of local communities dependent on the forests with the preservation of tiger habitat.

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