Project Tiger is not just a. programme for protecting the tiger. It cannot be, because it seeks to protect the tiger in its natural environment. Tiger depends for food on herbivores like the deer that sustain upon plants. The plants depend upon soil, which is formed and nursed by decay of animal and plant residue. Countless insects and microorganisms participate in this process of decay. Further, all plants and animals from elephant to bacteria must have water. Perennial availability of water, however, depends upon good vegetative cover in the river catchments, because plants not only bind the soil by their roots but also contribute 'humus' to it, which makes it fertile and porous. As rainwater seeps through the porous soil it gets trapped in rock cavities and accounts for the dry season discharge in streams and wells. So, in order to protect the tiger in its natural environment, comprehensive protection of the wilderness is essential. This precisely is the thrust of Project Tiger.
From the cold high altitude forests to the steaming coastal mangroves of Sunderbans, from the scorched arids of the west to the lush evergreens in the south and from the terai swamps to the peninsular highlands, the striped feline is very much at home. Indeed, therefore, the, well being of tiger in the Indian forests can be taken as an index of the ecological health of our wilderness. Moreover, because wilderness qualitatively and quantitatively safeguards the life support systems e.g. soil, water and air, the status of the tiger can also be correlated to the quality of human environment. This wide distribution and its special position in nature, have earned it the status of the national animal.
The launching of Project Tiger in 1973 was a recognition of this adversity and of the needs to take up remedial action. A decade of experience of the Project has proved how a sincere field conservation effort can quickly help nature heal its scars. It has also shown that with a perceptive approach such a restrictive programme can also secure the involvement of the communities who must curtail and regulate their uses of forests for conservation.
The Project has grown from 9 tiger reserves in 1973-74 to 15 in 1982-83. It now encompasses some 25,700 sq. km. with a core segment of 8000 sq. km. free from all exploitative human use. The striking revival of ecosystems in the reserves is easily seen from a comparison of the reserves with their still depleting surrounds. The number of tigers has itself gone up from 268 in 9 reserves in 1972 to 854 in 11 reserves in 1983. With 4 new reserves, the population in the Project areas now stands at 978. All India censuses of 1972 and 1979 reveal an increase in the country population of tigers from 1827 to 3015.
(Text by Courtesy: H. S. Panwar, Director, Project Tiger).
Date of Issue : 22.11.1983