Story | 22 Nov, 2023

A catalyst for change

The success of Project Tiger, now 50 years old, shows what a timely, well-targeted IUCN Resolution can lead to

Project Tiger is 50. For half a century now, India’s iconic big cats have been protected within dedicated tiger reserves, and their numbers have grown. This is one of the most high-profile conservation success stories of recent times, and a good example of how an IUCN Resolution has had lasting real-world impact.

During the period of British rule in India, the image of the pith-helmeted gentleman hunter, rifle in hand and standing over a recently shot tiger, was an all-too-common one. Yet even after Independence, tiger hunting continued in India. Nobody knew with any accuracy how many tigers there were in India’s jungles, and they were being killed indiscriminately.

But towards the end of the 1960s, that came to an end. The 1969 IUCN General Assembly (General Assemblies were the forerunners of today’s Congresses), held in New Delhi, led to the passing of Resolution GA 1969 RES 015, calling for a moratorium on the hunting of tigers.

The Resolution led to what the celebrated Indian conservationist HS Panwar (the first director of the Wildlife Institute of India, founder/director of the Kanha Tiger Reserve and former director of Project Tiger) has called a “sea change” in attitudes to conservation in the country.

India’s then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi (herself a wildlife enthusiast) got behind it, and a huge surge in interest in conservation led to India’s landmark 1972 Wildlife Protection Act. On the back of the Act, Project Tiger was launched on 1 April 1973.

For Anish Andheria, President of India’s Wildlife Conservation Trust, the IUCN Resolution “led to impetus and international backing for Project Tiger. And Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was prepared to give it her backing, at a time when India was still facing serious development challenges, post-Independence. The Resolution was an important catalyst for Project Tiger.”

And although Project Tiger has been successful in boosting tiger numbers, it is not just about the tigers. The population densities of top carnivores such as tigers are an indication of the health of a whole habitat, including rivers (tigers, unusually for a cat, are at home in and around water). The resolution to protect tigers has therefore led to widespread improvements in ecosystem health  and habitat protection across India.

The IUCN Resolution helped to bring international focus to bear on the plight of the Tiger

Resolutions at 75

The first IUCN Resolution was passed 75 years ago, in 1948. That means they are as old as IUCN itself, and integral to IUCN and to the way it operates.

IUCN Policy Officer David Goodman explains: “Resolutions, collectively, constitute the core body of IUCN’s policy – developed, debated and adopted by the Members. They do not come from our Secretariat or expert Commissions, but from the Members themselves. Our Members come together to consider policy gaps and priorities. They then submit them as motions, after which they go through a democratic process, with stages of debate.”

The Resolutions are not legally binding documents, but they are a means through which the global conservation community, both at state and non-state level, can communicate its priorities and provide guidance, both to the IUCN itself and to the outside world. Typically, they call on IUCN’s Members, Commissions or Director General to take action, for the international community to do something, or for the UN system or business and finance sectors to take a recommendation into consideration. They help to set the conservation agenda.

Over the 75 year history of IUCN Resolutions (during which time, over 1,400 have been adopted), it’s possible to see emerging themes which mirror the changing role of IUCN. The priorities of the conservation community have changed over time, and IUCN Resolutions reflect that. Some (like the one relating to tigers) have been focused on a particular species, but others have dealt with wider issues. There has been a growing focus on Indigenous peoples, on issues of gender and poverty, on the role of nature in sustainable development, and on the recognition of conservation as being closely related to human rights. Influence goes both ways: Resolutions both reflect changes in the world of conservation and drive the development of new thinking.

While Project Tiger may be 50, more recent examples show how Resolutions continue to focus attention on conservation issues, including some issues that are difficult, contentious and polarising. Since its adoption in 2016, for example, Resolution 6.079 has inspired widespread discussions on the obligations of States to consider the rights of future generations regarding climate change: the IUCN Resolution has echoes in a UN General Assembly resolution, passed in March 2023, on this issue. Resolution 7.122, meanwhile, called for a moratorium on seabed mining, given uncertainty around its impact: following the adoption of the Resolution, the IUCN has been engaging closely with the International Seabed Authority in this area, amid reports that the authority will soon start issuing licences to mine the deep seafloor.

TiGER iMAGE Forest guard on patrol in the Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India

Recipe for Resolutions

It is not always possible to show exactly how IUCN Resolutions have gained traction or how they have led to real-world impact. “It’s a difficult question, measuring the effect of Resolutions,” says Goodman. “Sometimes the evidence is clear: for example, in the development of the World Conservation Strategy, or the contribution of IUCN Resolutions to environmental treaties such as CITES, Ramsar and the Convention on Biological Diversity. But often IUCN Resolutions are one factor among many that lead to a change of law or practice. In many cases it’s about shaping the debate or contributing to change. We have no exclusive rights over it.”

So what gives a Resolution the best chance of having a real-world effect? For David Goodman, the power of Resolutions is partly in their timeliness, and in them being developed collectively. “What makes for a successful Resolution is strong consultations from the outset, so the proposals that come forward have broad support. While part of our role is technical, to develop policies well-grounded in science, much of our focus is on convening and consensus-building. What we hope this leads to widely representative Resolutions, with a wide range of champions.”

Anish Andheria emphasises another important factor, which the Resolution leading to Project Tiger illustrates very well. “Yes, the IUCN Resolution helped to bring international focus to bear on the plight of the tiger. But we need to remember also that India took it up seriously. The Resolution alone was not enough. India is the front-runner in tiger conservation: but a number of other countries in Asia are now tigerless. Of the nine sub-species of tiger, four are now extinct. The fact that the Indian tiger population has gone up is testimony to the fact that India has dealt with the crisis differently from other nations.”

Resolutions collectively constitute the core body of IUCN’s Policy

For Anish Andheria, the lesson that can be learned from Project Tiger, and applied in other areas of conservation, is about the vital relationship between people and nature. “Yes, credit goes to the international lobby, including IUCN, that initiated this. It goes also to the Indian government, headed by Indira Gandhi, that put political will behind it. The enabling factor was that it was in line with the culture of India and Indian people. The culture of the country is one of deep respect for animals: hunting was not carried out by ordinary people, but by people trading in tiger by-products, or the rich and famous. Popular support for Project Tiger came naturally. It went with the grain of the culture and with the wishes of ordinary people. It is an extraordinary fact that a country facing development challenges should give such space to a wild carnivore. But the Indian government didn’t scare people into respecting tigers.

“The success of Project Tiger in India is not just in the protected areas. It’s about communities that are willing to coexist with the tiger, and the tolerance for tigers in India extends beyond their protected reserves: not all tigers are within them, and tigers naturally roam widely. The learning from India is that conservation is not about enforcement alone. It’s also about aligning the needs of wildlife with the needs of people and their culture.”

India’s Project Tiger

Project Tiger began with nine tiger reserves: now there are 53, covering a range of protected habitats. Bengal tiger numbers in India have grown from 1,411 in 2006 (the first year in which camera traps were used to estimate numbers) to 3,682 recorded in the 2022 All India Tiger Estimation exercise (figures released for the 50th anniversary). Indeed, the tiger has become something of a symbol – not just of India, but of conservation efforts as a whole.

Help shape future Resolutions

As an IUCN Member, you can get involved in the development of future Resolutions. The best way to get involved is to participate in the motions process, which is launching next year for the 2025 IUCN Congress. There are various ways to participate: you can submit a motion, co-sponsor one, participate in the debate, or vote. The first step will be a series of regional conservation forums (see back page), in which Members will discuss regional priorities which could be addressed by a motion to become a Resolution.

You can find information on active and archived IUCN resolutions, plus reports on their implementation, at 

Members Mag Resolution 7.122 called for a moratorium on seabed mining


As the world’s largest environmental network, many other parts of IUCN also work on the conservation of tiger. Among these are:
•  IUCN Save our Species
•  IUCN Species Survival Commission Cat
    Specialist Group