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Startling new data reveals tiger numbers have increased rapidly in the first reserve in India where local tribes have won the right to stay. The information, which the Indian National Tiger Conservation authority originally tried to suppress, discredits government policy to remove the many tribes whose lands have been turned into tiger reserves.
Between 2010 and 2014 the tiger population in the BRT Tiger Reserve in Karnataka state almost doubled, from 35 to 68. Unlike elsewhere in India, local Soliga tribespeople have been allowed to continue living alongside tigers, even in the core of the reserve. This increase is far higher than the national rate at which the tiger population is growing.
The Soliga have a highly developed relationship with their natural environment, and venerate the tiger. Madegowda, a Soliga man, said, “We worship tigers as gods. There hasn’t been a single incident of conflict with tigers and Soligas or hunting here."
Across India, tribal communities are being broken up and evicted from their ancestral lands in the name of tiger conservation. In 2014, hundreds of Baiga tribespeople were evicted from Kanha Tiger Reserve – home of Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” – while over a hundred thousand tourists are welcomed into the reserve every year.
Survival International, the global movement for tribal people’s rights, is calling for a new conservation model that respects tribal peoples’ rights and uses their expertise to protect and enhance ecological diversity. Tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else: they are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, “These figures expose government policy to remove tribespeople from tiger reserves as not only immoral but also counterproductive. Tigers tend to do well when tribal communities remain – they have, after all, lived together for generations. But unlike tribal people, the thousands of tourists who drive in every day bring in a huge amount of money to the conservation industry. They also, of course, get the tigers used to close human presence – something poachers find useful. The best way to save the tiger is to leave the tribes that have protected their forests alone. Survival will continue to fight and expose the forced evictions that the conservation industry has tried hard to keep hidden.”