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India's Tiger Success Story

In 1964, the naturalist E P Gee estimated that in the early 20th century there were 40,000 Bengal tigers in the wild in India, but that due to hunting and habitat destruction, the number had dwindled to 4,000.

Bengal tiger

Two years later, Indira Gandhi became the country’s third prime minister. The famously steely politician cared deeply about nature, and in 1972 she pushed through India’s Wildlife Protection Act and also appointed a “task force” for tiger conservation.

Its members included naturalist Kailash Sankhala, conservationist Dr M K Ranjitsinh and champion of Indian wildlife Anne Wright, who with her husband had stayed on after independence from Britain and was a founder trustee of WWF India, launched in 1969. Their first act was to draw up an estimate of tiger numbers, dismally concluding that 1,827 of the big cats remained in the wild in India.

The tiger task force launched Project Tiger on in April 1973. Its remit ran from mapping habitats to research on how to save the tiger from extinction, and nine areas were designated as tiger parks. Fast-forward 50 years and there are now 53 such reserves across India. In 2018, an official census estimated their combined tiger population at 2,967.

New figures are due to be released by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, on 9 April and word on the bush telegraph is that the count could be as high as 4,000.



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