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India's sprawling landscapes are graced by the presence of majestic big cat species, each embodying power, grace, and an integral part of the nation's natural heritage. From the Royal Bengal tiger that prowls through dense forests to the elusive snow leopard that leaves its mark in the high Himalayas, these apex predators are not just emblematic of India's biodiversity, but also guardians of the delicate ecological balance. Recognizing the urgent need for their protection, India pioneered a visionary initiative known as Project Tiger in 1973, marking a crucial step in the conservation of big cats and their habitats. The Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of tiger reserves in India, 2022 (Fifth Cycle) report for Indian tiger reserves prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India and the National Tiger Conservation Authority revealed a mixed picture of progress and challenges. Concerns are emerging as India's wild tiger population has increased to a healthy 3,167 from just 1,400 in 2006, prompting discussions about the nation's forest capacity to sustain these numbers.

What is Project Tiger?

Project Tiger is a tiger conservation programme launched on April 1, 1973, by the Government of India.


  • Reduce factors that lead to the depletion of tiger habitats and to mitigate them by suitable management.
  • The damages done to the habitat shall be rectified to facilitate the recovery of the ecosystem to the maximum possible extent.
  • Ensure a viable tiger population for economic, scientific, cultural, aesthetic and ecological values.

What are the Benefits of Project Tiger?

Tiger Population Recovery:

One of the primary objectives of Project Tiger was to reverse the declining trend of the tiger population. Through dedicated conservation efforts, the project has successfully increased the number of tigers in designated tiger reserves across the country. This increase in population not only preserves the species itself but also contributes to the overall health of the ecosystem.

Habitat Preservation:

Project Tiger emphasizes the protection of tiger habitats, which has a positive ripple effect on the entire ecosystem. By safeguarding these landscapes, the project indirectly benefits a wide range of flora and fauna that depend on these habitats for survival. This contributes to maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance.

Economic Value and Tourism:

Tigers are charismatic megafauna that attract tourists from around the world. The project's success in conserving tiger populations has led to an increase in eco-tourism, generating revenue for local communities and the country. This economic benefit helps incentivize local communities to participate in conservation efforts.



Ecological Balance:

Tigers are apex predators that play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of their ecosystems. By controlling prey populations, they prevent overgrazing and help manage the health of herbivore species. This, in turn, has cascading effects on vegetation and other animal populations, contributing to a healthier ecosystem.

Protection of Keystone Species:

Tigers are considered keystone species, as their presence or absence can dramatically affect the structure of their ecosystems. By protecting tigers, Project Tiger indirectly safeguards a host of other species that are interconnected within the food web. This helps maintain the overall stability of the ecosystem.

What are the Challenges of Project Tiger?

Habitat Loss and Fragmentation:

Rapid urbanization, infrastructure development, and agricultural expansion have led to habitat loss and fragmentation. This poses a significant threat to tigers by reducing their living spaces.

Human-Wildlife Conflict:

As tiger habitats shrink and human populations expand, instances of human-tiger conflicts have risen. Tigers may attack livestock or even humans, leading to retaliatory killings and negative perceptions about tiger conservation. Balancing the needs of local communities and tiger conservation is a delicate challenge.

Poaching and Illegal Wildlife Trade:

Despite conservation efforts, poaching remains a critical issue. Demand for tiger body parts, driven by traditional medicine and illegal trade, continues to threaten the species. Effective enforcement against poachers and traffickers is essential to curb this illegal activity.

Lack of Connectivity between Habitats:

Isolated tiger populations in fragmented habitats face genetic bottlenecks and reduced genetic diversity. Establishing corridors to connect these populations is crucial for maintaining genetic health and allowing tigers to move freely between areas.

Climate Change Impact:

Changing climatic conditions can alter tiger habitats and prey availability, impacting their survival. Project Tiger must incorporate climate resilience strategies to adapt to these changes and ensure the long-term survival of tigers and their ecosystems.

Limited Community Participation:

Involving local communities in conservation efforts is vital for success. However, limited community engagement and benefits from tiger reserves can lead to resistance and lack of support for conservation initiatives.



Conflict between Conservation and Development:

Balancing conservation goals with development projects, such as dams or roads, can lead to conflicts. Ensuring sustainable development that considers both human needs and environmental conservation is a delicate task.

What are the Concerns about India's Forest Capacity Reaching its Limit to Support Tigers?

Roaming Outside Protected Areas:

Almost 30% of the tiger population roams outside protected areas and regularly enters human habitations, leading to human-tiger conflicts.

Shrinking Tiger Corridors:

The construction of linear infrastructure, such as railway lines, highways, and canals, has resulted in the shrinking of tiger corridors, essential patches that connect two large forest areas.

Foraying into Human-Dominated Landscapes:

Tigers are believed to leave forests in search of herbivores that increasingly venture into human-dominated landscapes. This behaviour is driven by the takeover of natural flora by invasive species like lantana, which disrupts the natural ecosystem and forces herbivores to seek food in areas inhabited by humans.

Carrying Capacity:

With the increasing tiger population, questions arise about whether India's forests are nearing their carrying capacity to sustain these apex predators.

Inequitable Population Distribution:

While India has 53 tiger reserves spread over 75,000 sq km, just 20 reserves cover one-third of the area for tiger conservation, leading to inequitable population distribution.

Human-Tiger Conflict:

Emergent conflicts have been addressed through compassionate yet unscientific solutions, such as feeding and rescuing incapacitated wild tigers, artificially enriching tiger habitats, and translocating "problem" tigers.

What are the Conservation Efforts of Big Cats in India?

Project Lion:

To conserve the critically endangered Asiatic lion, Project Lion was launched, primarily focusing on the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat. This initiative emphasizes habitat management, scientific research, anti-poaching measures, and community participation. It aims to ensure a sustainable and growing population of Asiatic lions.

Project Leopard:

Considering the widespread distribution of leopards and their adaptable nature, Project Leopard focuses on studying and conserving these elusive predators. It involves monitoring leopard populations, mitigating human-leopard conflicts, and preserving their habitats through a mix of protected areas and corridors.

Snow Leopard Conservation:

India's Himalayan landscapes are home to the elusive snow leopard. Conservation efforts include habitat protection, community engagement, research, and anti-poaching measures. Collaboration with neighbouring countries and international organizations helps in safeguarding this high-altitude predator.

Cheetah Reintroduction Project:

India has reintroduced the cheetah, an extinct species, in its original habitat. This initiative involves selecting suitable areas, restoring ecosystems, and addressing potential challenges in reintroducing and maintaining a viable cheetah population.

Legislation and Policy Framework:

Wildlife protection acts, like the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, provide the legal foundation for conserving big cats. These laws regulate hunting, poaching, and trade in wildlife and their derivatives.