` We need a landscape approach'
Rajesh Gopal is secretary general, Global Tiger Forum, an inter-governmental body to conserve tigers. He was at the helm of Project Tiger for 14 years. Excerpts from an interview How many tigers can survive in the available tiger landscapes? We are nearing the carrying capacity with 2,226 tigers (mid-value). Stretching on the higher side, even if we pack all our reserves as per their carrying capacity with active management, we may be able to add another 500. More tigers mean more challenges in the form of human-tiger issues and spaces linked with corridors. We need to be practical and should not project fancy ideas like "doubling the tiger number". What steps can the government take to secure priority tiger landscapes? We need a landscape approach. Tiger reserves or protected areas cannot be viewed in isolation. Tiger is a species of meta-populations, and thrives in `sources' and `sinks', governed by its social dynamics and land tenure patterns. This means we need good tiger-bearing forests within and outside the tiger reserves.
To ensure this, we have to strengthen the tiger agenda in the core areas by supporting protection, with other imperatives like voluntary village relocation, capacity building for staff, responsible tourism, smart patrolling, tiger monitoring and so on. This requires complementation in the buffer and corridor areas with an inclusive agenda which can provide ecologically sustainable livelihood options to local people to reduce their dependency on forests, avoiding development in certain corridor areas, sectoral integration to benefit locals and other stakeholders, mainstreaming tiger conservation in sectors where tiger is not the goal, on-site and off-site mitigations to benefit conservation, support from corporate and public sector for conservation, capacity building of frontline staff, day-to-day tiger monitoring and so on. Is there a future for smaller tiger reserves, like Ranthambore, which hardly have corridor connectivity? Yes of course, provided they are linked to other source areas through forests. Even a reserve with more than 50 tigers may become extinct if devoid of a corridor. A low density tiger area can last long if it has linkages. In the case of Ranthambore, its connectivity with Kuno is crucial.