New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed concern over the fate of the endangered tiger and said it appears that tiger habitats have reduced drastically across Tiger Range Countries. The situation has been aggravated further by the ongoing trafficking in body parts and derivatives of this magnificent animal. In India too, we have been facing the challenge of poaching and disruption in their ecosystems.
Prime Minister Modi was addressing the opening session of the 3-day Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation at Vigyan Bhawan here on Tuesday. he said the tiger is an apex consumer in the ecological pyramid and food chain. It requires a large amount of prey, supported by good forests. Therefore, by protecting the tiger, we protect the entire ecosystem and the ecological services, which are equally crucial for the well-being of human beings.
The tiger has brought all of us together here. This is an important meeting to discuss the conservation of one of the important endangered species. Your very presence is a testimony to the importance your country attaches to this “umbrella” among species, the Indian prime Minister said adding the benefits from tiger conservation are enormous but intangible. We cannot quantify this in economic terms. Putting a price tag on nature is difficult. Since Mother Nature has bestowed them for its own conservation, it becomes our bounden duty to conserve them. In India, the tiger is much more than just a wild animal. In our mythology, the mother Goddess, who is the embodiment of Mother Nature, is depicted sitting on a tiger.
Modi underscored that Species belonging to the animal kingdom, usually do not act to their disadvantage. However, human beings are an exception. Our compulsions and cravings, our needs and greed, have led to shrinkage of natural habitat and destruction of ecosystems. Here, I recall the famous words of Gautam Buddha who said: “the forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness. It affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axe-man who destroys it.”
The Prime Minister drew attention to the “great effort” made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in convening the tiger summit in 2010. The Global Tiger Recovery Programme was an important outcome of these efforts, he said and also appreciated the initiatives of Yeshey Dorji, chairman of the Global Tiger Forum and the “good efforts” made by the Tiger Range Countries in conserving tigers. Modi also complimented those present for the ongoing effort.
Modi pointed out that the forests are inseparable from wild animals. Both are mutually complementary. Destruction of one leads to destruction of the other. This is an important cause of climate change which is now affecting us adversely in many ways. This is a global phenomenon which all of us are grappling with. As a solution, we have committed to work towards country specific mitigation strategies.
For the Tiger Range Countries, the Prime Minitser said, a viable tiger population undoubtedly symbolises a mitigation strategy for climate change. This will create a huge carbon sink in the form of tiger bearing forests. Thus, conservation of tiger will go a long way in ensuring a good future for ourselves and our coming generations.
The Indian Prime Minister further said:
“India has a long standing and successful track record of protecting its tigers. We launched “Project Tiger” in 1973. Its coverage has increased considerably from the initial 9 tiger reserves to 49 at present. Tiger conservation is a collective responsibility of the Government of India and States. I also compliment our State governments for their efforts. But the efforts of Government cannot succeed unless they are supported by the people. Our cultural legacy which encourages compassion and co-existence has played an important role in the success of Project Tiger. Due to such collective efforts, there has been a rise of thirty per cent in the number of tigers. It has gone up from 1706 in 2010 to 2226 in 2014.
Our National Tiger Conservation Authority has taken many landmark initiatives. Use of modern technology, including intelligent, infrared and thermal cameras on a 24×7 basis is being promoted for surveillance against poaching in sensitive tiger reserves. Several protocols for smart patrolling and tiger monitoring have been evolved. Radio telemetry is also being promoted to monitor tigers. A national repository of tiger camera trap photo database is also being created. To do all this, we have, this year, doubled our allocation for tiger conservation. We have increased it from Rupees 185 crores to Rupees 380 crores; which is 3.8 billion Rupees.
I strongly believe that tiger conservation, or conservation of nature, is not a drag on development. Both can happen in a mutually complementary manner. All we need is to re-orient our strategy by factoring in the concerns of the tiger in sectors where tiger conservation is not the goal. This is a difficult task but can be achieved. Our genius lies in “smartly” integrating the tiger and wildlife safeguards in various infrastructures at the landscape level. This essentially takes us to the much needed “smart green infrastructure”, while adopting a landscape approach. The landscape approach would also help us to involve business groups through corporate social responsibility for various initiatives towards tiger conservation. In the Indian context, we intend to achieve this through the Tiger Conservation Plans.
Considering the ecosystem value of tiger conservation areas, we need to consider them as “natural capital.” Our institutions have done an economic valuation of a few tiger reserves. This study has highlighted the fact that besides conserving the tiger, these reserves also provide a range of economic, social, cultural and spiritual benefits. These are known as ecosystem services. Thus, we need to define conservation as a means to achieve development, rather than considering it to be anti-growth. This calls for factoring in the value of the ecosystem in the economic arithmetic of development and growth.
Friends! I am confident that we can achieve a framework to foster proactive engagement of industry for conservation. The natural capital denoting the stock of natural ecosystems should be treated at par with capital goods. Our economy needs to be viewed as a subset of a larger economy of natural resources and ecosystem services which sustain us.
As a country having more than seventy per cent of the global tiger population, India is committed to complement the initiatives of other Tiger Range Countries. We have bilateral arrangements with China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh. We hope to continue our efforts to address issues of mutual concern for the tiger.
A major threat to the tiger is the demand for its body parts and derivatives. The forest and its wild denizens are an open treasury which cannot be locked up. It is painful to learn about trafficking of body parts and derivatives of tigers and other big cats. We need to collaborate at the highest levels of Government to address this serious issue.
India along with several Tiger Range Countries is a founder member of the Global Tiger Forum, which is headquartered in New Delhi. This is the only inter-governmental organisation of its kind. It is now working closely with the Global Tiger Initiative Council. As a host country, I assure you of our fullest support. We will also be happy to support capacity building of wildlife personnel at the Wildlife Institute of India.
The Tiger Range Countries are signatories to other international conventions to address international trade on endangered species. In this regard, I want to give you another good news. We are moving towards formally adopting the statute of South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network.
At the end, I would like to emphasise that conservation of tigers is not a choice. It is an imperative. I would also like to emphasise that regional co-operation is essential for combating wildlife crime. In this conference, let us resolve to work together to protect the tiger and its space. India is committed to engage with all Tiger Range Countries for this purpose.”