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Monday, June 11, 2012

MP not safe anymore for man's striped friend

MONDAY, 11 JUNE 2012 00:22 PIONEER HITS: 221 Once bearing the status of a tiger State, it has now lost 454 big cats to poaching and accidents in the past decade. ZAFAR ALAM KHAN reports Once a tiger State and safe haven for big cats, Madhya Pradesh no longer remains safe for the exotic animals. In the past decade, over 100 tigers have been killed in the State at an average of 10 tiger deaths a year and poaching of the striped feline continues unabated to this day. The carcass of a full grown male tiger was found on Tuesday in the Keeldas forests of Kathotia village in Sehore district, about 40 kilometres away from the State capital. Unable to carry away the body of their kill due to its large size, the poachers cut it into two pieces and hid it in the jungles with the intent of coming back to retrieve it but, as luck would have it, before they could return the corpse was spotted by the villagers. As usual, the forest department arrived to the rescue of the real culprits and termed the death an accident. Some villagers were arrested immediately to hush up the case. Sehore District Forest Officer Vijay Nema said that it was an "unfortunate incident" and the villagers had laid a trap for some smaller animals near the water body and, by some mischance, the tiger fell in it and lost its life. It seemed a shameless lie to many ears. The department has intensified patrolling inside the jungles, Nema added. The State has lost 454 big cats during the last decade. According to the 2002 census, the number of tigers in the State was 711 and that came down to just 257 in 2011. This is not the first occasion that a tiger was found dead under mysterious conditions in the forests of Sehore. Earlier this year, a big cat was killed in Ichhawar in the same district and as usual the forest department held the villagers responsible for the killing. Wildlife activist Ajay Dube, while talking to Viva City, said, "With the killing of the full grown tiger near the State capital on Tuesday the Government's talk of security measures for the big cat stands exposed." Dube further said that tigers in the State are at threat as the morale of the poachers are so high that they do not hesitate to strike near the State capital. The lives of the tigress and her two cubs roaming in the vicinity of Bhopal almost in the same areas where this male tiger used to roam are also in danger, if the State Government does not wake up and make proper security arrangements for this tigress. State Forest Minister Sartaj Singh, however, ridiculed the fears expressed by wildlife activists. He said, "The tigress and both its cubs are safe and are under surveillance of the department round the clock. Special teams have been formed to protect the feline and her cubs." A couple of days ago, the National Tiger Conservation Authority had asked the State to step up monitoring of the tigress and other endangered animals in the wake of tiger poaching in adjoining Sehore district. A year ago, when the now dead tiger and the tigress were noticed in the forested area on the outskirts of the State capital, the NTCA issued an advisory to the State Government to strengthen the monitoring of the two adult animals. The 2011 tiger census revealed there were only 257 tigers left in the State's six tiger reserves, namely, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Panna, Bori-Satpura, Sanjay Dubri, and Pench. The situation is especially worrisome at the famous Kanha National Park which is now left with just 60 tigers. Madhya Pradesh's tiger conservation efforts were hit for the first time in 2009 when it was suddenly revealed that Panna, one of the State's premier tiger reserves, had lost its entire big cat population. The report says that there were about 20 tigers in 2006. Further doubts on the State's conservation efforts were cast by a confidential report of the Panna Tiger Reserve's field director, who claimed that forest officials were acting in collusion with poachers, thus placing a consistent threat to the revival of the tiger population in the reserve. A high was registered in 1999 when 42 tigers were killed. In 1995, poachers killed 16 tigers. A senior forest department official lamented that it was very hard to nab the kingpins of the poaching gangs. "Old methods of killing tigers using guns are outdated. The gangs now employ villagers living near the forests to kill the animals. The villagers generally poison or electrocute the tigers as it reduces their chances of being caught," the official said. Sadly, the tigers are critically endangered. Yet, there is hope. MP is one of the last places left in the world where relatively large and unfragmented wild tiger populations have the opportunity to have a sustainable and secure future. As per Wildlife Institute data, the tiger habitat in the State has shrunk by nearly 3,000 square kilometres. The Opposition is blaming the Government for the decline in the numbers. "The falling numbers of wild animals in Madhya Pradesh is a cause for concern. Our State had the highest numbers of tigers at one point. The Forest Minister and the Chief Minister are responsible for this," State Congress media department chairman Manak Agarwal said. Various social activists and wildlife experts had written to both the State and Central Governments to order a CBI inquiry into cases of tiger death in Panna Tiger Reserve but the Madhya Pradesh Government declined to order a CBI probe and instead formed a committee to investigate into the alleged disappearance and poaching of wild cats from PTR. When contacted, Madhya Pradesh Forest Minister Sartaj Singh said, "I have given my proposal (for a CBI inquiry). The decision (to form a committee) is taken by another department (Home)." As per the norms, the decision to constitute a CBI inquiry is taken by the Department of Personnel of training, a Central Government nodal agency in Delhi, on the recommendation of the State Government's Home Department. Even as the overall tiger count has gone up in the latest census, the falling numbers of the animal in the State has emerged as a big concern. Due to the steep fall in tiger numbers, Madhya Pradesh lost its 'Tiger State' tag last year.

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