TIGER Paris
While the tiger population in India is estimated to be around 2,226, a rise of over 30% since the last count in 2010, the pressures on the endangered cat are also rising.WWF

A tiger aged between 10 and 12 years has been shot dead in the south Indian state of Kerala after it killed two people and attacked others.

Labelled a 'man eater' on the basis of the attacks, the tiger is the second in the Wyanad area to be shot within two years. Two years ago, another big cat was shot dead in the region after being sighted near human habitations around the sanctuary.

Another tiger was recently killed in the neighbouring Karnataka state following a tragedy of errors which saw the young two-year-old cub relocated from Bhadra sanctuary following attacks on humans, only to be shot dead under mounting pressure from local people living in the periphery of the Bhimgad sanctuary where it was moved to.

Three tiger deaths may not seem a big calamity except when seen in the context of the tiger census and mounting pressures on the cat's habitat.

In the Wyanad sanctuary the tiger density is said to be beyond the region's holding capacity, leading to increasing tiger human conflicts.

But are tiger populations really 'exploding' or is it the human pressures on the tiger's landscape that are increasing? The choice is being made according to which lobby you belong to -- human rights, or wildlife.

Early last century, there were believed to be around 100,000 tigers in India. Today we have around one tiger for every half a million of humans in the country.

The tiger population overall is estimated to be around 2,226.

So, how did the tiger density suddenly increase?

Another problem is that of authorities violating laws. According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) norms, elimination of a man-eating tiger by invoking section 11 of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 should be the last option.

Tranquilising and capturing is the first option.

Yet in most of the incidents, the forest authorities have resorted to killing the endangered cat, owing to unruly mobs and political pressure.

Pressures from the rising human population and loss of natural habitat have resulted in sighting wildlife outside the preserves of shrinking protected areas than within.

Home to more than half the world's Asian tiger population, India has seen the deaths of 274 tigers in the last four years alone. Almost half were reported from outside tiger reserves.

The vital corridors that link the wildlife areas have seen large-scale encroachment from infrastructure projects and expanding farmlands. People often enter forests to collect firewood and forest produce, placing themselves at risk of death from wildlife.

Uncontrolled encroachments by estates and resorts around many of India's national parks threaten the survival of the few hundred Asian tigers left.

NTCA estimates that a tiger population of 80-100 (with 20-25 females of breeding age) is required to be genetically viable on its own. Going by this rule, not a single tiger population in the Central Indian landscape is genetically viable in the long run.

This makes it important to ensure connectivity of tiger source populations through a network of undisturbed corridors.

Highways eat into parks
Highways are the biggest threat to tiger corridors in the region, where a fifth of the tiger population live.

In Vidarbha, two widened highways - NH6 & NH7 - have destroyed at least six tiger corridors.

Fragmented corridors are also the reason why Maharashtra with many protected areas has not fared well in viable tiger populations.

The new government has been reconstituting many environment bodies in its eagerness to clear developmental projects. Construction of roads through parks has in one case endangered the largest breeding site of flamingos in Asia.

The review panel asked to suggest changes in environment laws has suggested shrinking the no-go area for mining by removing prime wildlife corridors.

A new study led by BirdLife International and the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen, has found poor protection in protected areas across the world.

While protected areas are expanding, it notes that the system is still failing to cover all key sites, species and ecosystems.

While poaching remains a top concern, the recent incidents point to habitat loss over the previous few decades as another major reason for tigers dying out – 93% of their forest territories have been destroyed and the tiger is being forced into proximity with human population.

We can either continue to shoot and kill the tigers each time they are sighted outside their demarked territories, or ensure that protected areas and the linking corridors, which hardly constitute 3% of the geographical area, remain strictly protected.