18 March 2009

tyger! tyger! burning bright

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake's poem aptly describes the sheer awesomeness and force of a tiger. I read this poem in the fifth grade, saw my first real live tiger in sixth grade; in eight grade I collected money to send to WWF for their tiger conservation project. Tigers are probably one of the animals that fascinate me the most. Perhaps, I am again being subliminally influenced by Disney.

The plight of this apex predator is well known world-over. Already three subspecies of tiger are extinct. The two largest subspecies currently in existence are the Royal Bengal and Siberian tigers.

Typical tiger country has three main features: It will always have good cover, it will always be close to water and plenty of prey. Bengal Tigers live in all types of forests, including Wet, Evergreen, semi-evergreen of Assam and eastern Bengal; the mangrove forest of Ganges Delta; the deciduous forest of Nepal and thorn forests of the Western Ghats. Tiger prefers denser vegetation, for which its camouflage is ideally suited. Tigers are often found bathing in ponds, lakes, and rivers. Tigers are excellent swimmers and can swim up to 4 miles.

Tigers are mostly solitary and territorial animals. A tigress may have a territory of 20 square kilometres while the territories of males are much larger, covering 60–100 km2. The ranges of males tend to overlap those of several females. They need in larger territory in order to breed without problems.

Habitat destruction and poaching are the primary threats to tiger populations.At the start of the 20th century, it is estimated there were over 100,000 tigers in the world but the population has dwindled to about 2,000 in the wild. The tiger is India's national animal and India habours the world's largest number of tigers. Unfortunately, it also has one of the biggest populations. A major concerted conservation effort known as Project Tiger has been underway since 1973, spearheaded by Indira Gandhi. The fundamental accomplishment has been the establishment of over 25 well-monitored tiger reserves in reclaimed land where human development is categorically forbidden. The program has been credited with tripling the number of wild Bengal tigers from roughly 1,200 in 1973 to over 3,500 in the 1990s. A recent census taken in 2007 states that tiger numbers have fallen to 1,411 which indicates that poaching is the primary reason for drop in numbers.

The Siberian tiger was on the brink of extinction with only about 40 animals in the wild in the 1940s. Under the Soviet Union, anti-poaching controls were strict and a network of protected zones were instituted, leading to a rise in the population to several hundred. Poaching again became a problem in the 1990s. When the economy of Russia collapsed, local hunters had access to a formerly sealed off lucrative Chinese market and logging in the region increased. While an improvement in the local economy has led to greater resources being invested in conservation efforts, an increase of economic activity has led to an increased rate of development and deforestation. Current conservation efforts are led by local governments and NGO's in consort with international organizations, such as the WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Currently, there are about 400-550 animals in the wild.

In Maharastra the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) is one of the havens for tigers. However the jungle sits on rich coal reserves about to be mined. Apart from destroying tiger habitat, this will also disturb the local ecosystem which supports many other animals which include leopards, sloth bear, wild dogs and some 70 other species along with many plant varieties.

Ecosystems such as this cannot be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis. There are cleaner ways of obtaining fuel and it is a pity that industrialists and governments alike look for the quick-fix solution. The life of the working mine is projected to be 40years by which time the 'sanctuary' set aside for tigers will be desecrated.

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