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Protests against relocation from tiger reserves
India’s tiger population is growing. According to the results of the All India Tiger Estimation (AITE), 2022 released in April 2023 by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the population of wild tigers in the country is estimated to be a minimum of 3,167. This is an increase of 619 tigers compared to the 2018 AITE.
A target to double wild tigers globally, also known as Tx2, was set by governments in 2010, at the St. Petersburg International summit on tiger conservation. Already decades previously, in 1973, the Indian government had launched the Project Tiger to protect the Bengal Tiger from extinction by ensuring a viable population of the animal in its natural habitats. Since 2010, the number of wild tigers in India has more than doubled.
This is good news. However, the government’s designation of tiger reserves as protected areas is again and again resulting in conflicts with Indigenous People, who are relocated in the course of this and see themselves confronted with adverse living conditions.
Indigenous Peoples forced to relocate
Today, there are more than 53 tiger reserves in India, covering an area of over 70,000 square kilometres. According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority around 12,327 families in 173 villages have been relocated, the human rights organisation Survival International says, pointing out that with a conservative calculation of five members per family, that would be more than 60,000 people. The organisation assumes that the number is likely to be way higher. Currently at least 300,000 people, from over 700 villages, are earmarked by the government for relocation.
In March 2023, hundreds of Indigenous (Adivasi) people from protected areas across India joined forces in Nagarhole Tiger Reserve in southwest India for a week-long protest march against the seizing of their lands to create protected areas for conservation, including tiger reserves, Survival International reported.
The protest was centred on the world-famous Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, which had been imposed, without consent, on the ancestral land of the Jenu Kuruba, who are renowned for their prowess as honey collectors, as well as the Beta Kuruba, Yarava and Pania tribes.
While Protected Areas welcome in foreign tourists, Adivasis are refused entry and barred from their forests, Survival International reported. In tiger reserves across India, tribal people have been evicted from their ancestral lands or are threatened with eviction in the name of conservation. They also face killings, violent assault and harassment.
For many tribal people, being thrown off their lands results in destitution. Large numbers of Adivasis end up working in local coffee plantations, in what the protesters described as almost slave-like conditions.
Coexistence of humans and tigers
In 2022, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) published a study titled “Living with Tigers” and describing how a successful coexistence of humans and tigers can be achieved. Almost 47 million people live in tiger territories, i.e. in areas in which tigers occur. A further approximate 85 million live within a radius of ten kilometres around these areas.
According to the WWF, relocating people from areas with tigers, just like doing so with tigers from areas with people, is the wrong approach. “If governments intend to secure their tiger recoveries over the long-term – or further expand these gains – they will need to drastically reimagine and expand their coexistence approaches,” the report states. “It will also require integrating tiger conservation into the human development agenda, with Indigenous Peoples and local communities and social science experts playing leading roles in bringing this to fruition.”
Ines Lechner, editor, Rural 21
Visit the Survival International website
Study: Living with Tigers (WWF website)
Visit the website of the National Tiger Conservation Authority/Project Tiger