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One of the big threats facing tigers has been the loss of habitat. There’s about 1.5m square km of suitable habitat left in Asia. Nonetheless, outside of the Russian Far East, most of these exist as relatively small patches. Outside Russia, 36 sites (about half in India) contain nearly three-quarters of the world’s wild tiger population. These are sites that have the potential to maintain a wild population of 25 or more breeding females.

For many years, developing and enhancing the system of tiger reserves has been a conservation goal. Sadly this has been marked with somewhat conspicuous long term failure. The actual occupancy rate of tigers in suitable habitat has plunged by nearly 40%. Sites like Panna and Sariska have had their tigers completely extirpated by poachers.

Establishing and enhancing habitat for tigers remains an elusive goal. Nonetheless, the recent Global Tiger summit in St Petersburg has promised substantial aid to the creation and enhancement of such reserves.

The problem is that many potential reserves in Asia are also occupied by people. Some of these groups have no rights to be there, while others are often minority groups with a long historical tenure. Moving such peoples out of these forested areas becomes a challenge.

In theory, countries like India have a regulatory process that is supposed to be fulfilled to motivate such tribal groups out. This provides for first, ruling out the possibility of coexistence with tigers. If this is not possible, moving the people out needs the approval of the grahm sabha (village assembly that includes all adults). The compensation package to move out mandates a resettlement location that has all the basic amenities provided.

Nonetheless, the case of the Soliga tribals (adivasis) of the Biligiri Rangaswamy sanctuary shows that nothing is straightforward. About 370 sq km have been deemed critical tiger habitat and will require the eviction of about 1000 tribal households. Rather than consent and compensation being the norm, the suasion of the fait accompli are given as the only option. Consultation is merely telling forest dwellers what is in store for them. The response by the Soliga tribals has been to ask the Minister for Environment and Forests, to be poisoned first before the sanctuary becomes a reserve. (This is in an area where the actual tiger numbers have increased in the sanctuary without the enhancement a reserve should bring).

And while the Soligas tribals are being targeted for removal, leases for coffee-growing companies within the sanctuary (some 1800 acres) remain intact. It remains no surprise that throughout Asia, most poaching of tigers is still being done by local peoples, antagonistic towards the tiger.

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