Who is a superhero? The one who has some special powers and with the help of that power he/she fights against the super villains for protecting everyone and saves the world. They act as a symbol of faith to the people who depend on them. But do we have any such superheroes in our world? (Don’t think of the DC and Marvel’s fictions).
Surprisingly there is an animal in reality with all the above-said qualities. Everyone calls them Tigers – Our National Animal. It not only saves its kind alone, but all other animal species present in its habitat and the truth is it saves its super villains (Humans) too.
Present status of Tigers
In wild condition, Tigers are present only in 13 countries of Asia. The number ranges around 3890 (in wild), of which India alone has 2226 Tigers which are above 1.5 years of age. (according to 2014 Tiger census data). In India, we have 18 Tiger states which are divided into five Tiger regions namely Siwaliks & Gangetic Plains, Central Indian Landscapes & Eastern Ghats, Western Ghats, North Eastern Hills & Brahmaputra Flood Plains and Sunderbans. These five regions consist of 50 Tiger reserves.
But it is known that in USA alone 5000 Tigers are kept in captivity. It is more than the whole world’s wild Tiger population. Most of them are privately owned, spending their days in private parks, zoos, and even as pets.
Why I call Tigers – the Superheroes ?
Tigers are one of the ‘keystone species’ which means the presence of a Tiger ensures the presence of many other species which lives on that habitat. Tigers live in a wide range of habitats from snowy mountains to dry grasslands from Tropical Rain forests to Mangroves of Sundarbans. Hence a large number and variety of species depend on its survival. Let us consider a grassland ecosystem with the Tiger as its top carnivore. Sambhar, Spotted deer, Indian gaur and Elephants are the major primary consumers. The Tiger is the one which keeps the other herbivores population within the carrying capacity of that ecosystem. With the extinction of Tiger, the prey population will increase abundantly which ultimately results in overgrazing. Due to which the entire grassland ecosystem slowly degrades and soon disappears. Hence, the Tigers play an important role in maintaining the health and diversity of the ecosystem.
Worldwide, 332 key wildlife areas and 10 Natural world heritage sites overlap with the Tiger habitats. Almost 31% of the Asian Elephant’s habitat overlaps with the Tigers’ Habitat. And in Sumatra, 100% of the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutans’ and Sumatran Rhinos’ habitat overlap with local Tigers’ habitat. And other species like Clouded leopards’ and Snow leopards’ habitats also overlaps with Tiger habitats. Hence by investing in the protection of Tiger habitats, we can also save other highly endangered species that shares it’s place with tiger.
The fate of most rivers lies in the condition of the forests. Globally, forests which hold Tiger population overlaps with 9 globally important watersheds which provide water for agriculture, industry and domestic use for 830 million people. In India, Western Ghats which has 6 Tiger reserves satisfies the water requirement of 100 million people living in 9 states and in North India Corbett Tiger Reserve alone provides water to irrigate almost 60,000 hectares of land. The forests should be in good condition for the effective survival of the rivers. And for the effective survival of the forests, the Tiger population becomes imperative.
And at last, in the recent years, the Tiger habitats attract a large number of tourists which provides an opportunity for the local people to earn a livelihood and sustainable development through ecotourism.
The Faith of survival
It is told that in ancient times, the world contained more than 50,000 Tigers. But because of trophy hunting and heavy poaching, its numbers were reduced to few thousands. In 2006 India consists of only 1411 Tigers. In spite of facing numerous threats like corridor loss, habitat fragmentation, loss of genetic diversity due to isolation, poaching, etc., Tigers increased their numbers to 2226 in 2014 and are still responding well to the conservation measures. This gives the element of faith to people that even after facing these tremendous threats the Tigers show that it can survive and also increase its numbers.
Hence from the above features, it seems more defendable that the tigers are having all the qualities of a superhero.
Paltry Superhero with ill-equipped habitat
Recently the report of Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CA|TS – International Tiger Conservation Organisation) revealed that out of the 112 Tiger habitats worldwide only 14 are having the prescribed CA|TS standards, and none of these belong to South-East Asia. Almost 3/4th of the sites are not sufficiently staffed. Also, 3/4th of the sites lack adequate infrastructures to support the staffs and most of such sites belong to South East Asian countries. From this, we can say that the Tiger habitats in the South East countries requires additional care and investment when compared to those in South Asia.
Super Villains turned Super Fans
Almost all the threats faced by Tigers are of human origin. We encroach their habitats, we hunt their prey and finally, we poach the Tigers themselves. In spite of which Tigers do good for us. But our country once known for its hunting grounds of Tigers had changed into a land of conservation. On comparing with any other country in this world, India is witnessing a record increase in number of large mammals, leave alone Tigers, but also other species like One-horned Rhinoceros, Asiatic Lion, Snow Leopards, Clouded Leopards, etc., We are on the right path to conservation. Still, it is not sufficient. The conservation efforts should spread to all other endangered species. Efforts should be taken to reduce the human encroachment and habitat loss. Reintroduction of the animals into potential sites should be encouraged. Resources must be effectively utilised. By doing so, we can bring back the normal life of all endangered species. We have to be the super fans of these Secret Superheroes.
Picture credit : Manojkumar
Data Credits: Beyond Stripes Save Tiger Save Much More – World Wide Fund for Nature