Indira Gandhi launched Project Tiger on April 1, 1973, from Jim Corbett National Park in Uttar Pradesh (now in Uttarakhand). At the beginning of the 20th century, India had between 20,000 and 40,000 tigers. But hunting had decimated the population until they numbered around 2,000 in the early 1970s. After Project Tiger, their population has shown a gradual rise, with the 2018 tiger census putting the number at 2,967.
Project Tiger is also about habitat conservation as the tiger is at the top of the food chain. It was initially started in nine tiger reserves, covering over 14,000 sq. km, and the objective was to create diverse ecosystems that would have enough space for all species to grow, feed, and procreate. The programme has now grown to include 51 tiger reserves, covering over 74,000 sq. km. But tiger deaths have also increased, with 106 deaths in 2020 and 127 in 2021.
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The Centre funds tiger range States and in-situ conservation in some chosen reserves. The reserves have been created on a core and buffer structure, where the core is for tiger-centric activities and the buffer is for humans on the fringes of the forest. In the 13th Five Year Plan, Rs.1,027 crore was allotted for the project, which is administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Poaching is a big problem because of the demand for tiger parts. A GPS-based law enforcement and ecological monitoring tool, M-STrIPES (Monitoring System for Tigers- Intensive Protection and Ecological Status), launched in 2010, is helping create a database of individual tigers so that seized body parts can be traced to the tigers they belong to.
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Tigers continue to be on the IUCN’s Endangered list and under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. With India accounting for 70 per cent of the world’s tigers, the onus is on Project Tiger to increase its numbers.