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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Reserves

Consider this: `1 invested in Karnataka’s Bandipur Tiger Reserve, which hogged the limelight during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit, offers a return of `716. This is a massive return on investment, and here’s how the numbers break down:

Timber and carbon storage: `31,476 crore

Ecosystem services impacting human health: `14,966 crore

Provisioning of water: `2,066 crore

Climate regulation: `1,443 crore

Madhu Verma, an environmental economist who did this number crunching for the union environment ministry in 2019 as part of a project, says: “Tiger is a director of systems, and an entire ecosystem thrives because of them — like flora, fauna, timber, carbon storage, soil conservation, gas regulation, gene pool, water storage and natural control of vectors.”


Putting a monetary value on it is the best way to convince stakeholders, corporates, policymakers, politicians, and masses about the silent services of tiger habitats, explains Verma, who worked for twoand-a-half decades at the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management.

She calls the evaluation an underestimate. Of the 53 tiger reserves in the country, economic evaluations of 16 have been done. Some are in progress. Each reserve has its unique economic valuation based on a thriving ecosystem and services offered to society. Tiger reserves generate employment of over 5 million man-days annually, Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav recently tweeted.

Around `100 crore in tourist visit fee was collected from these reserves between 2018 and 2021, a lower-than-average figure due to Covid lockdown. “Tiger is a surrogate indicator of things that go unnoticed and are unfactored in GDP. Tiger investment does a lot towards green GDP, but it doesn’t get quantified. If you invest in tigers, you protect the forests. Tiger-bearing forests store a lot of carbon in different forms. If 2.3% of the country’s geographical areas are in the tiger reserve system, indirectly so much area is addressing your climate concerns which are linked to sustainability,” says Dr. Rajesh Gopal, secretary general, Global Tiger Forum.


Tiger bonds, carbon trading in tiger reserves, corporate business models for tiger conservation and tiger towns are some of the options being explored to generate funds for the conservation of the big cat. SP Yadav, additional director general of Project Tiger and member secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), says the process of operationalising a voluntary carbon market in five tiger reserves has been set in motion.

These include Sunderbans, Dudhwa, Pench, Kanha and Periyar Tiger Reserves. Proposals have been cleared for the Kaziranga and Manas tiger reserves. The carbon credit value is likely to vary depending on the quality of the forest. A rough estimate of the encashment of carbon credit in UP’s Dudhwa tiger reserve is `10-15 crore annually. “We are working with The Energy and Resources Institute to launch the carbon credit scheme in these reserves this year.

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