Once upon a time, almost entire Northeast India was covered with dense forests and the tigers used to roam in those forests like a boss. However, in the last few decades, poaching and deforestation have led to a heavy toll on the population of tigers here. While tigers have become a past tense in some states, they are surviving in few others. So, on the occasion of International Tiger’s Day, we take a look at the condition of tigers in the region.
As per the tiger census taken in 2014, their population in Northeast saw a sharp increase from 148 in 2010 to 201 in 2014. A report titled ‘Connecting Tiger Populations for long term conservation’ said that the population of big cats in the area have historical evolutionary significance as they share the connecting gene pool with south east Asian tiger population and represent the entry point of tigers into the Indian sub-continent.
Condition of tigers in various NE states
Assam saw a large increase, with the population going up from 143 in the last census to 167. 28 tigers were also recorded from Arunachal Pradesh, thus bettering the number of 14 in 2006 census. Speaking about the tiger population, Rohini Saikia, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) which has one of the highest densities of Royal Bengal Tiger said, ‘ The tiger population in Kaziranga is really stable since the last few years. They enjoy a good prey base here including sambars, wild boars and buffaloes. There has been no case of tiger poaching in the last one year. There has been one retaliatory killing in Northern Range near Bishwanath Chariali recently. Sometimes, the tiger kills domestic cattle in the fringe villages and the villagers poison the big cat in retaliation. We are trying to eliminate such cases as much as possible.’
There was a time when Meghalaya used to boast of a pretty decent tiger population. However, that is not the case anymore. A tiger census was taken in the state way back in 2002 which revealed that there were 47 tigers in Meghalaya. In all these years, the numbers have gone down.
In Mizoram, the curiously named Dampa Forest Reserve was part of Project Tiger to conserve tiger. However, tiger has completely disappeared from Dampa since 1994. However, in 2012, presence of tigers was confirmed at Dampa through a DNA based technique for analyzing tiger faecal sample. The situation is perhaps worse in Tripura where no tiger presence has been recorded since 1976.
Dwindling tiger population
Regarding the dwindling number of tigers, renowned environmentalist Anwaruddin Chouduhury said, ‘ More than habitat shrinking, it is the biotic pressure which is spelling doom for the tigers. Human beings are entering everywhere including the reserve forests which is shrinking space for the tigers. When habitat gets reduced it affects the prey base of the tiger. Then they come out in the localities leading to conflict with humans. However, unlike the British era, we don’t hear about many man-eating tigers now. In those days, tigers were omnipresent. They used to be almost everywhere and so the chances of them clashing with human was more.’
Offering another different perspective, famous wild life activist Soumyadeep Dutta said, ‘ Though people feel that tigers are not being poached because it doesn’t come in newspapers, the reality is something else. It is easy to detect a rhino poaching because the poachers flee with only the horn. But in the case of a tiger, everything from the skin, bones, internal organs are used. There is a big market for tiger organs and I believe lot of poaching is happening in the interiors. In fact outside Assam, the population of tiger is almost negligible.’
In fact, the claims of Dutta is validated by the fact that just few months back, a tiger was killed by locals at Manipur-Nagaland border. None of the two states are known for any existent tiger population and so the origin of the tiger is a bit of a mystery there. It is suspected that the tiger migrated from Assam. While there might be doubts about its origin, this incident has made it clear that killing of tiger is happening.
The present condition of tigers in Northeast India is far from encouraging as they have presence in only two states. However, there is no reason why we can’t get back these magnificent beasts in our forests again. Provided they are left alone and the protection is provided effectively, tigers have inherent ability to recover, and recover quickly. What we need is the will to provide those.