When Did India Adopt The Tiger As Her National Animal?

The Bengal tiger is a charismatic species, an apex predator that rules the wilds of India.
The Bengal tiger is a charismatic species, an apex predator that rules the wilds of India.

When Did India Adopt The Tiger As Her National Animal?

India adopted the tiger as her national animal on November 18, 1972.

A Brief Story Of Tiger Conservation In Independent India

In the winter of 1969, a historic meeting was held in New Delhi, the capital of independent India. Experts from around the globe attended the Tenth General Assembly of the IUCN to decide the fate of the Bengal tiger. Despite protests by a united group of hunters and commercial safari operators, the decision went in favor of the tiger. It was declared endangered. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, played an instrumental role in the decision-making process ( ref: India's Wildlife History by Mahesh Rangarajan). Her support came when the tigers needed it the most. However, the decision of adopting the tiger as India’s national animal was yet to be taken. Since 1967, this prestigious position was occupied by Panthera leo leo or the Asiatic lion.

After the tiger was declared endangered, Indira Gandhi immediately spearheaded a mission to save the remaining tiger population in India, one that had been decimated by decades of indiscriminate hunting by India’s colonial rulers and their supporters from the native population.

Gandhi outlawed the export of skins in 1969. In 1971, a Tiger Task Force was appointed by her. By then, India’s tiger population had reduced to about a mere 1,800 from the thousands that roamed India’s wilds at the close of the 19th century.

The picture was a grim one. The Tiger Task Force predicted that the Bengal tiger would be extinct by the end of the 20th century. Urgent action was needed. Thus, another historic decision came in 1971 in the form of a ban imposed on tiger killing by the Delhi High Court. The ban was a sharp blow to the trophy hunting industry active in the country at that time. It was worth a whopping $4 million a year.

Wildlife was given preference over short-term economic gains, and another monumental milestone in the field of conservation was marked by the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. It provided comprehensive protection to India’s wild flora and fauna.

In the same year (1972), November 18 became a memorable day when the charismatic Bengal tiger was adopted as India’s national animal by the Indian Wildlife Board. A large-scale campaign to save the species from extinction was also announced, an effort that would cost $6.7 million to the Indian economy as mentioned by Prince Karan Singh, the Minister for Tourism at that time.

Then in 1973, Indira Gandhi took yet another decision that promised a bright future for the tiger. “Project Tiger,” the world’s most comprehensive tiger conservation initiative was launched by her. Nine tiger reserves were established, guards were hired to protect them, and humans inhabiting such reserves were forced to evacuate.

All these efforts resulted in rising tiger numbers. At the time of Indira Gandhi’s unfortunate assassination in 1984, India was home to 4,000 tigers and served as a global model of wildlife conservation.


More in Environment