The Bengal Tiger Reserves of India

Bengal tiger Bandhavgarh National Park - Photo by Koshy Koshy (Flickr)

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Bengal tiger Bandhavgarh National Park - Photo by Koshy Koshy (Flickr)

The Indian authorities have responsibility for saving the Bengal tiger. It is in their hands as it has been for decades. The situation is becoming ever more precarious in respect of the existence of the Bengal tiger in the wild. The pressure is mounting. India carries an enormous responsibility on behalf of the rest of the world. How are they responding to these challenges?

I am not going to give an opinion based on shallow internet surfing and anger. I'll just refer to a very definitive report written by senior scientists from the premier conservation associations concerned with managing the Bengal tiger in India. You could hardly find a more authoritative source of information.

I am referring to the "Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of Tiger Reserves in India: Process and Outcomes 2010-2011". The authors comprise no less than seven experts with Ph.Ds. They come from the National Tiger Conservation Authority, Wildlife Institute of India and independent experts.

It is a long document so I feel entitled to pick and choose my references.

They evaluated 39 tiger reserves in 17 states of India. They awarded an average score of 65%, which I feel is quite generous considering that from an outsiders standpoint it appears that if we were to assess the overall situation and sum it up one word, that word would have to be: failure.

You can see how individual tiger reserves fared on this page: Indian Bengal Tiger Reserve.

They say that the Tiger Conservation Plan (a major plan under Project Tiger as I understand it), has "been extremely poorly implemented". The plans have been prepared shoddily if you summarise what they say. It seems that the plans lacked detail and rigor even at a fundamental level. The plans lack a clear objective and goals the authors say.

They say that the managers of the reserves have not stepped up their skills in reserve management. Over 25 years of experience in this field should have brought reward but they say the tiger population is the same in the reserves as they were 25 years ago. I find that strange as the population of tigers have decreased dramatically over 25 years as I understand it. However, the conclusion is that there has been little or no progress in tiger reserve management over a quarter of a century.

The report is very critical of staffing levels. They say that staffing levels remain the same as decades ago and there are numerous examples of gross understaffing. It is no wonder that we have poaching for the Chinese medicine market. The demands on staff are much greater today than in the past they say. As a consequence there is an urgent need to increase staffing levels.

They say that "capacity building is abysmal" and that amateurs are entrusted to carry out work that requires experts with experience. In addition, some staff are simply not up to the job on the basis of basic fitness; they are too old.

The planning of the resettlement of people who live on the reserves is carried out by unskilled people leading to failure. Resettlement is a delicate and complex task.

Other issues were a lack of funding and slow funding. Also there was a lack of skill in managing and engaging with communities local to the reserves to minimise their impact on the reserves.

Research has taken a back seat and is conducted on an ad hoc basis.

The above is just a summary but it makes pretty shocking reading and it is all from the people in authority in the tiger conservation business.

What I find odd about what they have said in general terms is that they have awarded 15 reserves with "very good management" and an overall score of 65%.


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