BENGALURU, India (AP) — It was a festive atmosphere for officials gathered just hours from some of India’s largest tiger reserves in the southern city of Mysore, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced to much applause on Sunday that the country’s tiger population has grown steadily. to more than 3,000 since the flagship conservation program began 50 years ago after the big cats were decimated in numbers.
“India is a country where protecting nature is part of our culture,” Modi declared. “This is because we have unique achievements in wildlife conservation.”
The International Federation of Big Cats also said it would focus on the protection and conservation of the seven big cat species, namely tigers, lions, and panthers.snow leopard, puma, jaguar and cheetah.
Protesters, meanwhile, are telling their stories on Sunday about how they have been unfolded by wildlife conservation projects in the last century, with dozens showing up within hours of the announcement.
Project Tiger began in 1973 after a census of India’s big cats found tigers were rapidly becoming extinct through habitat loss, unregulated game hunting, poaching and increased retaliatory killing by humans. The population of tigers is believed to have been around 1,800 at that time, but experts widely think that it is due to an overestimation of the methods of counting in India until 2006. They tried to decline the laws, but the model of conservation is based around the creation of protected reserves where ecosystems can work quietly. from the people.
Many Indigenous groups say conservation strategies, largely driven by American environmentalism, have meant uprooting many communities that have lived in the forests for millennia.
Members of several Indigenous or Adivasi groups – as the indigenous people are known in the region – established the Nagarahole Adivasi Forest Rights Restoration Committee to protest the boundaries of their ancestral lands and seek a voice in how the forests are treated.
“Nagarahole was one of the first forests that came under the Tiger Project and our parents and grandparents were probably among the first to force the name of conservation from the forests,” said JA Shivu, 27, who belongs to the Jenu Kuruba. tribe “We have lost all rights to fields, temples, or even to collect honey from the forests.” How can we live like this? “
Jenu, which means honey in the Kannada language of southern India, is the primary source of food for the tribe, which it collects from beehives in the forests for sale.
Fewer than 40,000 people, the Jenu Kuruba are one of the 75 tribal groups that the Indian government classifies as the most vulnerable. Adivasi communities like the Jenu Kurubas are among the poorest in India.
Some experts say that political conservationists who have tried to protect ancient wilderness are influenced by prejudice against local communities.
The Indian Ministry of Public Affairs has repeatedly said that it is working for Adivasi rights. Only about 1% of the more than 100 million Adivasis in India have been granted all rights to forest lands, although the government passed the Forest Rights Act in 2006, which aimed to “redress a historical injustice” for forest communities.
India’s tiger numbers, meanwhile, are thriving: the country’s 3,167 tigers account for more than 75% of the world’s wild tiger population.
The tigers in Bali and Java and the tigers of China have disappeared into the wild and are likely to be extinct. The Sunda island tiger, another sub-species, is found only in Sumatra. India’s plan to save them has been hailed as a success by many.
“Project Tiger has hardly anything like it in the world since a system of this scale and size has not been so successful anywhere else,” said SP Yadav, a senior Indian official in charge of Tiger.
But critics say the social cost of conservation fortification — where forest departments protect wildlife and local communities from entering forest areas — is high.
Sharachchandra Lele, of the Bengaluru-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, said the conservation model has evolved.
“There are already several examples of forests being actively managed by local communities and tiger numbers increasing even while people are benefiting from these areas,” he said.
Vidya Athreya, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in India, who has been studying interactions between big cats and humans for two decades, agrees.
“Traditions humans have always placed on animals,” Athreya said, adding that joining communities is a way to protect wildlife in India.
Shivu, from the Jenu Kuruba tribe, also wants to return to life where the Indigenous communities and tigers lived together.
“We think they are gods and we are the guardians of these forests,” he said.
Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi, India, contributed to this report.
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