Tiger Dialogues

James Warwick BENGAL TIGER
© James Warwick

Tiger Dialogues

The Tiger Dialogues series, hosted by WWF-India, WCS-India and Panthera, explores tiger conservation in a historical light. Throughout the series, new avenues will be explored and interesting insights will be given into the past, present and future of tiger conservation.

These moderated panel discussions co-hosted will place tiger conservation in India in its historical context, bring current conversations into sharp focus, and broaden opportunities and constituencies for tiger conservation.

Previous Panels

PANEL 7: The Primacy of Ungulates for Tiger Conservation: Habitats, Ecology, and Bushmeat Hunting
Original Panel Date: Saturday, August 12, 2023

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Where tigers have persisted or rebounded, dear, wild bovines, pigs, antelope and other herbivores necessarily thrive or are locally abundant. Yet, these species, which have shared Landscapes with tigers for millennia, are often alluded to as “prey” — or the means to the arguably narrow end of ensuring persistence of tiger populations. The catch-all term “prey” fails to capture the complexity of behavioral, spatial, and foraging ecology and life histories of a diverse group of wild herbivores that profoundly affect ecosystems beyond their role in trophic webs and which can also be threatened with extinction.

The seventh session of theTtiger Dialogues will feature a panel of experts discussing wild herbivores co-occurring with tigers and supporting apex predators. How do herbivores differ significantly at the biome, regional, and local scales? To what extent do they rely on habitat parameters as a measure of human and livestock impacts on their use of an area? What conditions are most conductive to the thriving of various herbivore species, and what stressors are most likely to affect their populations? How do the distribution and abundance of herbivores depend on tiger territories, space use, and population dynamics, and what are the critical knowledge gaps? If a management goal is to create or enhance habitats for wild herbivores, what steps are necessary to achieve this? Also, since wild herbivores are also “preyed upon” by humans, how prevalent is local hunting, what are its drivers, and what strategies can be employed to ensure wild herbivores persist within outside of Protected Areas?

PANEL 6: Conflict, Coexistence, Co-occurrence and Co-adaptation: Disentangling the Four C's to Explicate Human-Tiger Interactions
Original Panel Date: Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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In a country of over 1.4 billion people and about 3,000 wild tigers, there will inevitably be shared spaces where people and tigers need to ‘get along’! But getting along may not be tenable in the long term unless the risks posed by tigers to people are low and the costs and losses that they incur from conflict with tigers are efficaciously addressed. The persistence of tiger populations in human dominated landscapes will require that the species’ essential life history needs are met — sufficiently large habitat areas, areas with dense cover where they can shelter from people, wild prey in adequate numbers, and low enough mortality rates for populations to persist. Space sharing by people and tigers also ultimately requires human benevolence, or at least the willingness and ability to tolerate tigers in environments where people live or eke out livelihoods, which places an even greater burden on economically and socially disadvantaged communities.

This panel will deliberate on conceptual definitions of coexistence. It will also provide diverse perspectives on the scale and impacts of conflict on people and tigers, and the significant knowledge gaps that still exist, and reflect on whether coexistence is a tenable goal. Conversations will also span the social, political and ecological conditions that may engender coexistence (or the lack, thereof) — and outline management strategies and policies that are necessary for durable human – tiger coexistence in India’s human dominated landscapes.

PANEL 5: Whither People, Whither Tigers? Reconciling Discourses About People and Tigers in India's Forests.
Original Panel Date: Saturday, November 26, 2022

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While tigers and humans have co-inhabited forest-scapes across large swathes of India for millennia, the "place" and primacy of tigers — and people — in these shared landscapes has shifted, and remains contentious. The institutionalization of Colonial forestry laws and management structures — some of which still persist, spurred the drafting of the 'Forest Rights Act', that guarantees forest-residents their tenure over forest land and resources. However, on the ground — within and around Tiger reserves, national Parks, Sanctuaries and Reserve Forests — ambiguities about the place of people and tigers are writ large in how (and by whom) space is perceived, allocated and managed. At the heart of the "people and tigers" debate is the question: how can we successfully conserve tigers in areas that also accommodate people, especially historically marginalized Adivasi communities who are culturally, socially and economically tied to forests?

In the fifth session of the tiger dialogues, social scientists and conservationists will examine this question from different angles: what does it mean to successfully conserve tigers — and what lessons can we draw from tiger habitats across India — that have included or excluded people; what lessons can we draw from India's experiments in decentralized forest governance to vest greater agency in communities for use and management; where do opportunities (or key levers of change) lie to reconcile the diverse interests and needs of people and tigers to sustainably manage forest use and conserve wildlife in multi-use and multi-tenure landscapes?

PANEL 4: Keeping Tigers Alive Against the Tide of Poaching and Illegal Trade
Original Panel Date: Saturday, October 29, 2022

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Powerful, yet very vulnerable to hunting and snaring. Highly adapted to diverse eco-climatic conditions – ranging from Siberia to Tropical Asia, and Mangroves to hot, arid zones — but still sensitive to perturbations caused by land use change and habitat fragmentation. Tigers, in contrast to leopards, are less adept at living on the margins of cities and in disturbed habitats, but they have nonetheless dispersed over hundreds of kilometers through agricultural landscapes, and are even known to breed and raise young in sugarcane fields! Tigers maintain extremely complex social lives even though they are predominantly solitary. How do we make sense of these apparent contradictions, and what do they tell us about strategies and actions that are needed to enable the species survival into the next century? Undoubtedly, important clues and answers lie in the species biology and behaviour.

In the fourth session of the tiger dialogues, a panel of experts will direct our gaze to aspects of the species’ life history to understand how they have adapted to ever-changing landscapes, and to the limits of behavioral adaptation, beyond which the species’ demography is likely to be adversely impacted. How do attributes and stimuli from the external environment drive diverse aspects of behaviour – foraging, breeding, territory maintenance, dispersal, and space use? How do interactions with other carnivores, the distribution, and the occurrence of herbivores (prey species), in combination with environmental factors, explain tiger space use? And how do tigers calibrate their relationships with habitats, prey, and competitors in response to exposure to humans, land use change, and other anthropogenic perturbations?

We will explore these and other questions through the eyes of path-breaking naturalists and conservation scientists who have walked extensively in the footsteps of tigers. Having painstakingly studied their ways, their habitats, the biology of their prey species, and assessed how the species navigates human-dominated landscapes, the panelists will paint an intricate picture of how tigers both shape their environment, and how their behavior and populations are shaped by the environment. We will also be regaled by stories from diverse field sites from near and afar, that will offer us more insights into the world of tigers. These conversations will ultimately extend our understanding of the extraordinary challenges that tigers have faced, and convey messages about what needs to urgently be done to perpetuate the future of this apex predator in India and beyond

PANEL 3: Keeping Tigers Alive Against the Tide of Poaching and Illegal Trade
Original Panel Date: Friday, September 30, 2022

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Notwithstanding their charisma, power and status as endearing cultural symbols, tigers are still vulnerable to poaching. Poaching is the greatest threat to tiger populations since approximately one million square kilometres of habitat remain unoccupied throughout their range. A dead tiger – or the sum of its parts — skin, flesh, bones, whiskers and claws included, commands high prices in thriving illegal international wildlife trade. Trade is spurred by an insatiable demand for luxury items, like tiger pelts, and for virtually every body part for traditional medicines with dubious efficacy. Consequently, governments and conservation agencies have invested substantial resources in protecting and enforcing the law at sites, over vast landscapes, and across national borders. Thus, this iconic big cat has become a 'mouse' in vast areas of its range, navigating forests filled with treacherous traps and wily hunters, often backed by powerful wildlife trade organizations.

Despite all the challenges, India has demonstrated notable success in conserving this endangered species in several areas, primarily due to the extensive network of Protected Areas in the country and the willingness of its people to accommodate tigers in various parts of the country. Nevertheless, these achievements are far from ubiquitous, and the species has virtually disappeared from about 70% of its Indian extant habitat.In the third session of the tiger dialogues, leading large carnivore conservation experts, conservation scientists, experienced wildlife managers, and wildlife trade experts will come together to deliberate on a range of vexed issues about poaching, reducing demand and approaches to break the cycle of  and illegal tiger trade. These conversations will span at least three intertwined issues. What are the proximate and ultimate drivers of tiger and prey poaching, and how far is the shadow of local socially sanctioned hunting affected by organized international trade? Is using innovative approaches, such as technology-aided patrolling, helping secure vulnerable populations, and when can law enforcement be considered effective? In addition, what approaches can be employed to shift human behaviour and decrease the demand for wild meat and wildlife products? Ultimately, the key to keeping tigers alive may lie in reconciling efforts with supporting the rights, beliefs, and practices of culturally diverse, economically disadvantaged residents of tiger habitats.

PANEL 2: Bridging Fractured Geographies:
Fragmented, Connectivity and the Future of India's Wild Tigers
Original Panel Date: August 27, 2022

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There is more to the picture than meets the eye regarding tiger conservation in large, heterogeneous landscapes. Many tiger populations exhibit curious patterns: some are unexpectedly small, even in areas with productive habitats and an abundance of prey. In other cases, the species numbers are spiraling towards extinction. Some tiger populations are characterized by abnormal sex ratios, with more males than females in others, melanistic animals with a strange pelage-black with little ochre-orange — roam the forests. Meanwhile, unseen to our eyes, inbreeding has weakened some populations' genetic vigor. There are also troubling reports of a growing animosity towards tigers in areas where the species spills out of forests into the surrounding landscape.

These are just a few of the dramatic effects of isolation: in the absence of functional corridors, the persistence and viability of many populations are at risk. There are likely no greater stakes in tiger conservation than maintaining connectivity. Yet, the challenges of connectivity conservation are daunting, given that corridors span multi-use landscapes inclusive of forest, farmland and other land uses. In the second session of the Tiger Dialogues, conservationists and scientists with expertise and experience in, landscape genetics, ecology, and policy will deliberate about the causes of habitat fragmentation and the consequences of habitat fragmentation on tiger populations. This panel will outlay urgent steps and policy interventions that need to be taken to reduce the impacts of fragmentation on India’s tiger landscapes, now and into the future. The panel will also consider how durable multi-sectoral partnerships and coalitions of scientists, conservationists, and the public can be built and sustained to advance inclusive strategies and actions for connectivity conservation in fractured and fast-changing landscapes.

PANEL 1: Two Centuries of Hunting and Five Decades of Conservation in India:
Learning from the Past to Secure the Future of India's Wild Tigers
Original Panel Date: July 30, 2022

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Our first panel featured a discussion among India's foremost environmental historians and conservationists on how the past has influenced the present and will continue to influence the future of our national animal. This discussion covered a period of two centuries starting with the colonial legacy of 'sport-hunting' and their policy of 'destroying dangerous beasts' to the emergence of conservation as a philosophy in India culminating in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Lastly, the discussion touched on how learnings from the past can be brought to bear on current-day conservation decision-making to ensure a future for tigers in landscapes with fractured geographies and intertwined histories.


John Goodrich, Ph.D.,

Chief Scientist, Panthera

Abishek Harihar, Ph.D.,

Deputy Director, Tiger Program, Panthera


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