In 2010, the World Wildlife Fund predicted that tigers would be gone from the wild within a generation. In April 2016, the cats were declared extinct in Cambodia. That same month, though, tiger conservationists announced some good news: though still small, tiger populations were growing for the first time in a century. And it’s due, in no small part, to the indigenous tribes that have learned to coexist peacefully with the predators, the BBC reports.
There are approximately 3890 tigers in the wild now, compared to about 3200 in 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Survival International, a UK nonprofit devoted to indigenous rights, argues that tiger conservation works better when local tribes are involved. In India’s BRT Tiger Reserve, where tigers live alongside the Soliga people, the species' population is increasing at higher rates than elsewhere in India, where locals have been forced to move out of tiger reserves. BRT’s tiger population nearly doubled from 2010 to 2014, increasing from 35 tigers to 68.
In 2014, about 3000 people were evicted from the Kanha Tiger Reserve, the location that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. India’s Wildlife Protection Act created human-free reserves in certain forest areas, including those that tigers use to breed, but didn’t account for the locals who had lived there for generations. In 2006, the country—which is home to 70 percent of the world’s tigers—passed a law allowing indigenous peoples to remain in the forests, causing strife with conservationists determined to keep tigers from the harm inflicted by human society.
However, Survival International is not the only organization to dispute that suggestion. The BBC also turned up a 2016 study that found that in India’s Bor Tiger Reserve, local villagers “considered [tigers] a boon and beneficial to their livelihood, and almost all displayed environmental awareness and stressed the necessity to conserve tigers in order to ensure their own continued survival.”
The tiger also has religious significance, as it is the animal ridden by the goddess Durga in Hindu mythology. As such, locals are more interested in living peacefully alongside the animals than poaching them or encroaching on their hunting grounds.
“We worship tigers as gods,” as one man living in the BRT Tiger Reserve told Survivor International. “There hasn’t been a single incident of conflict with tigers and Soligas or hunting here."
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