29 June 2017
News has hit the headlines that Indian government officials have arrested two individuals on the outskirts of Pench Tiger Reserve in central India, in possession of tiger bones, claws and teeth. Initial reports suggest that three magnificent wild tigers were slaughtered to obtain this grisly hoard.
Instrumental to the success of the operation involving the arrests was Nilesh Gawande, who received an award from Born Free last year. This annual award is given in recognition of the valuable contribution of grassroots conservationists who go above and beyond for tigers in central India.
Wildlife in all legally protected areas faces all manner of threats, and Pench Tiger Reserve is no different. Here, the primary threats to wildlife are illegal fishing, developments such as road expansion, and - of course - tiger poaching, driven by the demand for tiger parts and products: claws and teeth for amulets, skins for luxury rugs and bones to make a ‘tonic’ for currying favour or sealing a deal.
So far this year, 58 tiger deaths have been recorded by Indian government authorities. This latest news of more precious tigers lost is doubly tragic, given indications that the Pench tiger population had been increasing.
The protection of Pench Tiger Reserve involves the efforts of a range of stakeholders: government officials, local wildlife charities and dedicated individuals working tirelessly and often without recognition. Born Free has been in collaboration with many of these wildlife heroes for 13 years, as part of the Satpuda Landscape Tiger Partnership. The Partnership co-ordinates activities with local communities and government officials to improve tiger conservation throughout the highlands of central India. This region is the largest block of tiger habitat in India and has great potential: tigers breed relatively easily and populations can stabilise and recover, but this will not occur until the threats facing them are much better controlled.
Just as with the rhino poaching epidemic in South Africa, demand for tiger parts and products is such that the even the very best protection on the ground cannot totally prevent tiger poaching. Certainly, this protection can usually be improved and at the other end of the chain, consumer demand can also be addressed.
However, all such efforts will ultimately fail unless a global movement for tiger conservation - involving everyone from individual tiger lovers to the world’s governments - pulls together to prevent efforts to protect wild tigers from being undermined by two key factors precipitating the decline in tiger populations: the relative ease with which wild tigers and their parts cross international borders, and the stimulation of demand through the ready availability of captive bred tigers in Southeast and Far East Asia.
A month from now, on 29th July, the world celebrates International World Tiger Day, but for those of us who treasure every individual tiger and who dream of a future where these glorious animals not only persist but thrive, every day is a tiger day. Join us.