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            India is the abode of 36000 gods and goddesses and in myth, epic and literature, the tiger plays an important role and has been the subject for discussions at mealtimes and even while putting babies to sleep. Considering the enormous interest in the species and looking at its wide distribution, the Indian tiger was picked up as the national animal replacing the lion which also is the only surviving wild population of Asiatic lion found in the Gir forest of Gujrat, India. 

At the turn of the century, it is estimated  there were more than 40000 tigers in India alone which declined to roughly 1800 in 1972, when the effort to launch Project Tiger was initiated, worldwide, eight species of tiger Panthera tigris were found from the Caspian Sea in the west to Bali in the east. Today, the Bali Pt. balica the Caspian tiger Pt. virgata are certainly extinct, and the Javan tiger Pt. Sondaica is also not reported since 1980.  All the five remaining sub species of tiger, which roam this part of the Asian continent, viz. the Bengal tiger - Pt. tigris, the Indo-Chinese tiger - Pt. Corbetti, Sumatran tiger - Pt. Sumatra, the Siberian tiger - Pt. Altaica and the South Chinese tiger - Pt. Amoyensis, whose numbers range from 4600 - 7700 face extinction, while the situation in respect of the Siberian and south Chinese tiger has reached a critical stage.  

          It can thus be seen that of the five surviving sub-species of tigers, the position of the Bengal tiger is the most satisfactory and India accounts for 75 per cent of the species, which is roughly 60 percent of the global population of all tiger sub species put together. While the Siberian tiger is threatened largely due to poaching, the decline of the South Chinese  tiger was basically the result of wanton hunting of the species in the past and wide scale killing of the species inside the country for traditional medicines. The decline in the population of the Bengal tiger, the Indo-Chinese tiger and the Sumatran tiger is attributed to the combines effect of habitat loss and poaching.


          Nine Tiger reserves were constituted in the first year of launching of the Project Tiger in India (1973). The tiger population in these areas, according the 1972 census was 268. The subsequent effort of conservation, including addition of new project tiger areas saw a rise in the number of tigers over the decade and the 1989 census indicated a population of over 4000 in the Indian sub-continent. The population in the 18 tiger reserves being 1327. However the 1993 census showed the population in India as above 3750 and the same in 23 tiger reserves as 1366, indicating that the tiger population had declines during the 1989-1993, including dwindling of the population in 11 of the 18 reserves. The question therefore arises as to why the success that project achieved in the initial years could not be maintained and why even India, with the highest tiger population in the  world suffered a setback in the species.


            In the early part of the current century, the decline in the tiger population in the country was primarily due to hunting which was allowed before 1970. Hunting of the species was status symbol among the elite for display of trophies and wearing of fur coats .A total ban on hunting, stoppage of trading in tiger products, both at the national and international levels, and implementation of habitat improvement and anti poaching measures led to a steady recovery of the species in the 70s and 80s, supported by the worldwide bans enforced through various agencies on the trade and use of tiger and its products. The clamor for use of coats made of tiger skin also declined in the global market, thanks mainly to public awareness programs and publicity.  

Since 1991, field foresters have noticed that tiger bones are more in demand than skin. Poached tiger skins are left behind in the forests, but the bones are taken away. In some cases, even tiger carcasses detected after death or poaching and buried in the backyards of forest offices were exhumed and the bones taken away. This has posed a new threat to tigers in India and indicates an organized and determined bid by the mafias to liquidate the animals. This new challenge has reversed some of the successes of the measures initiated in the late 1970s and 80s, as a result of which the tiger population declined during 1989-99.


            The tiger has been a symbol of India for centuries. It is so deeply embedded in our culture, religion and everything that we treasure from our past, that it is difficult to imagine an India without this gallant and majestic animal. 

Saving the tiger does not simply mean the saving of one of the most dramatic and beautiful species that the world has ever seen , it means saving the Spirit of India

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