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Thursday, August 30, 2012

SC extends ban, but hints at regulated tourism in tiger areas

New Delhi: Extending the ban on tourism in core tiger reserve areas till September 27, the Supreme Court today indicated it was not averse to permit regulated tourist activities, subject to the Centre evolving suitable revised guidelines to protect the depleting wild cat. A bench of justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar granted four weeks to the Centre to evolve the fresh guidelines after consultations with States, all stake-holders, hotel associations affected by the ban, guides and tour operators. On July 24 the apex court had banned all tourism activities in the core tiger reserve areas. "There is always a watch when tourism is allowed. If there is no tourism there will be no humans to watch the tigers. "Poachers will immediately be caught by tourists and the guides. Poachers actually work undercover. If no tourists are allowed, it will be a field day for poachers," the bench told Attorney General GE Vahanvati, who agreed with the observations. The apex court passed the observation after the AG sought permission to revise the existing guidelines to ensure that tigers were protected even while tourism is promoted. During the nearly hour-long hearing the bench asked the Centre whether the existing tiger conservation guidelines envisage a complete ban on all activities inside core areas. The Centre submitted that the rules did not envisage a complete ban, rather provided for 20 per cent activities inside the core areas. "There seems to be some kind of clash, some kind of difference of opinion between centre and the states. Please ensure these are resolved. "Also identify which activities shall be allowed and not allowed inside core areas," the bench observed adding it wanted comprehensive guidelines to promote both growth of tiger population and regulated tourism. The bench asked the AG to ensure regulated tourism as hundreds of vehicles are trooping in an out of the core areas. "It has been a free for all till now. Is it necessary to take 100 vehicles into the core areas," the apex court wondered. Senior counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing for Rajasthan and States like MP, urged the court to immediately lift the ban to ensure that the parks are opened by October 1, 2012. The counsel cited instances of Uganda, Kenya and certain other countries to claim that tourism regenerates wildlife and that there was no justification for the apex court to ban it. Another senior counsel Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Hotel Association of India, maintained that tourists did not venture into the core areas, but were only taken on guided excursions for a short period of time. He lamented that in view of the ban hotels have had to cancel bookings from foreign countries and the livelihood of several lakh of people was at stake. However, senior counsel Raj Panjwani, appearing for petitioner, Ajay Dubey, submitted that the Centre had failed to evolve a comprehensive plan for the past two decades. The Centre had earlier filed an affidavit seeking permission to review the existing guidelines for conservation of tigers in the wake of the apex court's order banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserves. In its affidavit, the Centre had also contended that the states have expressed concern that many local people depend on tourism for their livelihood and banning tourism in core areas of the tiger reserves would result in loss of such income leading to discontent which may be a threat to wildlife and forests. Under the existing guidelines and rules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the states have to notify the list of core and buffer areas of tiger reserves in their respective jurisdictions. As per the guidelines, buffer zones are the areas which lie in the periphery of core areas, also known as critical tiger habitats. Tiger breeding takes place in core areas which are meant to be kept free of any disturbance, including tourism. The buffer zones constitute the fringe areas of tiger reserves up to a distance of 10 kms. There are an estimated over 1,700 tigers in the country. PTI

Abandoned weak cub to be shifted to Kanha on Sept 1

TNN | Aug 30, 2012, 05.35AM IST BHOPAL: A cub, which was abandoned by a tigress in the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) would be taken to - Kanha Tiger Reserve (KTR) on Saturday, September 1, for its rehabilitation. "The date for shifting the six-month cub has been finalised and it would be taken to KTR in a specially designed vehicle with park veterinarian and a divisional forest officer keeping a watch on it. The striped-animal will be first put in a house for some months, thereafter in an enclosure before releasing it in the wild," PTR field director RS Murthy told TOI. More than three months ago, a tigress, T-1 abandoned the cub in the PTR after which the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) asked the MP forest department to shift it to Van Vihar national park and animal rescue and rehabilitation here. But the forest officials had asked the NTCA that it wants to shift the animal to KTR, which was cleared. T-1 gave birth to the cub along with three other cubs in a cave of PTR on February 16. On March 29, the tigress shifted to another cave some 2 km away from the first one, but didn't carry the weak cub. But, it returned to its previous cave on April 2 and fed this abandoned cub. This time around also, T-1 didn't take the cub with it after which the PTR authorities with electronic gadgets, kept a close watch on it and when its condition deteriorated it was rescued from the cave on April 12 and kept in a well-equipped room in PTR. Felines usually abandon their cubs when they turn weak, according to wildlife experts. All preparations have to be made for keeping the cub in KTR, officials said. Kanha sanctuary employees have mastered the technique of hand-rearing cubs by successfully raising two orphaned tigresses. KTR is having housing and an enclosure in which two orphaned tigresses were reared and later on translocated to PTR to revive big cat population.

Bookings hit at Ranthambore over SC ban

TNN | Aug 30, 2012, 03.03AM IST JAIPUR: It was a day of mixed fortunes for Rajasthan that has been advocating regulated tourism in tiger reserves rather than a complete ban. The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to formulate fresh guidelines for protection of tigers in core and buffer zones, providing room for an alternate route to be considered. However, with the court deciding to continue the ban till the next hearing on September 27, just days before the Ranthambore tiger reserve opens to visitors on October 1, tourism at the park is sure to take a beating. The online booking of Gypsies and canters for a safari at the park by the forest department is yet to begin. "Normally, online bookings start a month or two before the park opens for the season. However, this time with the Supreme Court ban, there is no way we can begin bookings. Else, tourists' money will get stuck," said AC Chaubey, chief wildlife warden, Rajasthan. Till the last season, to get a Gypsy booked for a safari was a matter of luck as bookings are closed within the first week of the season owing to heavy rush of tourists. Requests for cancellation of rooms at hotels too have started pouring in. Balendu Singh, president, Hotel Owners' Association in Ranthambhore said, "October November are major months for us. With festivals lined up, tourists head to Ranthambhore. This is not the case this year. Most people who are travelling on a holiday like to plan their tour well in advance but with the Supreme Court ban there is an uncertainty about visits to the park. The effect can be felt in the number of bookings." With the court fixing the date of hearing in the case so close to the time when the park opens to public, hoteliers said fate of several bookings have been left to the last minute. "First, we had told them (tourists) that by Wednesday the court would come up with a decision, but now with the ban being extended, we will have to intimate them once again through e-mails. We hope that the ban is eventually lifted. Ranthambhore has managed well with regulated tourism since several years and other states can learn from us. Even during peak season, just 40 vehicles are allowed to go inside the park everyday," he adds. On the brighter side, with the Supreme Court in its fresh order asking stakeholders to make their submissions within a week to the committee set up for framing the guidelines for consideration, it is possible that many states, including Rajasthan, that have earlier sent their recommendations to the ministry will now approach the court straight away. Rajasthan that has been leading a crusade of sorts gathering all tigers states in the country under an umbrella so that the total ban is lifted might just decide to represent its case on its own. However, officials refused to comment anything on the matter and said, "It is too early to decide on such things now."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ranthambore’s green cover expands after torrential rain

TNN | Aug 28, 2012, 05.46AM IST JAIPUR: Fifty-two tigers against a backdrop of lush green undergrowth, springs, waterfalls and brimming water bodies. This and much more await tourists this season at Ranthambore tiger reserve. The torrential rain in the state for the past one week, though threw life out of gear in most places, has added more greenery to the forests in the state. Though the national park is now closed for tourism due to monsoon, it is scheduled to open on October 1. "Torrential rain has done a world of good to forests in the state. While the water bodies in Ranthambore are overflowing, the rains have virtually turned the reserve into a rainforest. If tourism is ever allowed in the reserves, it will be a treat for the visitors," an official said. "The rain has also added to the green cover of the reserve. With no entry for tourists or vehicles, nothing has been able to disturb the undergrowth in the forests,"sources said.

Man-eater was pushed out of its territory

Bangalore:, Aug 27, 2012, DHNS: The big cat, spotted at a waterhole in May, strayed into agricultural fields of HD Kote The tiger that was captured at HD Kote by the Forest department on Sunday, was aged, injured and pushed out of the forest by a dominating male, Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) has revealed. The big cat identified as NHT-222 was frequently camera-trapped since May 2005 in various parts of the tiger reserve, said a press release issued by Dr K Ullas Karanth, Director, CWS. “It was first photo-captured on May 6, 2005, when it was 3-4 years of age in Metikuppe range of Nagarahole. From these first sets of photos, we estimated him to be about 3-4 years of age at that time. He has been subsequently camera-trapped several times during our annual surveys. His last photo-capture was on December 26, 2011, during our current round of phase-IV monitoring conducted with the Forest department,” said Karanth. It strayed into fields He said that in May 2012, the animal was injured in the front right paw and had never recovered since then, and until recently, it was seen in agricultural fields. Subsequently, it raided cattle and killed a woman. “The Forest department patrols observed an injured tiger near Hosakere tank in Sunkadakatte area. We identified it as NHT-222. “It appears that this male tiger aged about 12 never recovered from its injury and has since been pushed out to the reserve fringes. “At the time of its capture, it had a severe injury on its front right paw. It also had discoloured and worn-out teeth, with broken canines,” Karanth said. Karanth said Nagarhole had a high density of tiger ranging between 10-12 animals per 100 sq km. According to studies conducted by CWS, about 22 per cent of the tiger population is lost every year due to mortality and outward dispersal. “NHT-222 has now become a part of this annual loss. However, because of a rich prey base, tigers are reproducing well in Nagarahole-Bandipur, with resident females producing large litters, easily making up for the annual losses,” he said.

Monday, August 27, 2012

NGO files plea over buffer notification

Dipannita Das, TNN Aug 26, 2012, 02.17AM IST Supreme Court|rush|Ashish Kothari|ashish PUNE: An intervention application filed by city-based NGO Kalpavriksh in the Supreme Court states that state governments are likely to bypass and violate the processes put down in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the Forest Rights' Act, 2006, in the rush to notify buffer areas around tiger reserves. The apex court, in the Ajay Dubey vs. National Tiger Conservation Authority (special leave petition no(s).21339/2011) case, had issued a directive on July 24 asking state governments to notify the buffer areas within three weeks. The application pointed out that in most states there was no consultation with the affected villagers, or a very cursory one with a few meetings. "This is conducive for greater mistrust and suspicion, hence more conflicts between the local people and the forest department. In such a rush, the notification is issued without proper scientific basis. All this could backfire on wildlife conservation too," the organization said. The NGO has requested the Supreme Court to recognise these issues. Ashish Kothari, petitioner on behalf of Kalpavriksh, told TOI, "If the court allows, we would like to argue for a review of this case through a proper process. Notification of buffer areas around national parks and sanctuaries is to curb destructive developmental activities. There are other options too like declaring areas as eco-sensitive or as biodiversity heritage sites, which can curtail destructive activities while allowing livelihoods to continue. All options must be considered using the best available knowledge and democratic processes.'' In an earlier order on April 3, 2012, the apex court had directed states to issue the notification within three months. Taking exception to the fact that some states (including Maharashtra) had not done so, the court ordered them to issue them within three weeks, failing which contempt proceedings would be initiated, and state secretaries asked to pay Rs 50,000 fine, each. Kalpavriksh's contention is that the short time was contrary to the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 which provides for specific conditions to be fulfilled prior to declaration of the buffer areas. It states that the 'buffer and peripheral areas' are to be declared in such a manner that the rights of scheduled tribes as well as other forest dwellers are recognized. This requires full implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which has not been done in any of the core or buffer areas of tiger reserves. "As per the Wildlife Act, the limits of a buffer area are to be determined on the basis of scientific and objective criteria developed on the basis of consultation with the gram sabha. An expert committee should be constituted and the buffer zone area should be identified keeping in view and recognizing the livelihood, developmental, social and cultural rights of the local people. It should aim at promoting coexistence of wildlife and human activity. Hence, the notification process would take time,'' Kothari said. Conservationists and environmentalists who participated in a national consultation on protected areas and forest rights recently in New Delhi had the same views. The group is part of 'Future of Conservation Network (FoC),' a network of ecological and social organizations and individuals committed to effective and equitable conservation of bio-diversity. Neema Pathak, a member of Kalpavriksh and of FOC, said the court had given very little time for identifying and notifying the buffer areas and holding consultation with gram sabhas. These areas have a significant human population, and the law mandates discussions with gram sabhas and formation of an experts' committee. "It is not clear if the amicus curae has informed the court about all aspects of the real situation. We have already sent a letter to the ministry of tribal affairs,'' she added.

Tour operators' Pench proposal glosses over govt norms on tiger tourism

Nitin Sethi, TNN Aug 26, 2012, 05.43AM IST Tour Operators for Tigers|TOFT|Tiger tourism|Pench Tiger reserve|National NEW DELHI: Lease out 150 sq km of prime forest land to private tourism companies next to a prominent tiger reserve for 50 years. Buy it, if possible. Run an exclusive resort on the cordoned off land with rents upto $4,000 a night providing revenue of upto $4 million a year. Hire a few locals for minor services like supervisors, guards and other lower-level functionaries. This is the proposal from Tour Operators for Tigers (TOFT) — one of the most prominent association of tiger-tourism operators, who have opposed the Union government's regulations on eco-tourism and the Supreme Court's interim ban on tourism on core of tiger reserves. TOI accessed the business proposal that TOFT had submitted to the Madhya Pradesh government to run the exclusive Africa-style eco-tourism zone adjacent to Mowgli land-Pench Tiger Reserve. TOFT, which has several high-end eco-resort owners and tour operators as partners across the most prominent tiger reserves, has openly solicited and collected funds from tour operators in several countries to fight the Supreme Court's ban and the government's guidelines restricting tourism in the name of Guide Association of Madhya Pradesh and Kanha Lodge Association. The association, along with prominent wildlife NGOs like Wildlife Protection Society of India, whose head Belinda Wright also runs a resort in MP, has taken a public stand against stopping tourism in the core of tiger reserves. TOFT has opposed the imposition of a cess on its revenues to be used for conserving wildlife and providing livelihood to locals as proposed in the government guidelines. The TOFT Pench proposal was advocated in 2009 and got an in-principle approval from the MP government, which too has opposed the restrictions on tiger tourism, but is yet to take off. TOI, however, could not determine the current status. Julian Matthews, who heads TOFT, did not respond to TOI's emailed queries. But the details of the proposal give an insight into the kind of tourism TOFT advocates in India. Documents show that the 'conservancy' operation was to be run by a company called Great Plains Safari Company, which runs similar operations in Africa and National Geographic Society. It was supported by a carbon trading firm backed by the international bank Credit Suisse and the then WWF chairman. The multi-million dollar operation promised to hire 228 locals, including about 65 for running resorts, and the rest of the employees would continue to work for "government work guarantee scheme". TOFT sought a three-year tax holiday for its venture. It claimed that the total annual profits would be about $1 million by the end of fifth month of its operations — of which half would be shared with 'communities'. It has claimed that it would start the controversial carbon trading system in the area by banning cutting of bamboo and restricting harvesting of other timber out of which the `communities' would get $1 million annually. The company would also buy livestock from locals to reduce pressure on the forest land. TOFT has not stepped back even though this particular proposal hasn't come to fruition. On its website it is running a campaign against the guidelines and the court order stating, "Most of today's conservationists fell in love with nature when staying in these rest houses and lodges (inside the tiger reserves). Valmik Thapar, Bittu Saghal, Billy Arjan Singh to name a few you know. How can you destroy our children's chance of experiencing nature in this natural way?" Ads by Google Local Airport Taxi Reliable Airport Taxi Sevices, Easy to Book by Phone or Online Switzerland Tour Packages Traveling to Switzerland? Save 40% on Hotel+Airfare Deals. Book Now! TOFT is asking for a different set of norms. It says, "These guidelines must plan for a huge increase in numbers of visitors, both from International visitors but more especially from our own Indian markets - and you must encourage and incentivize us (with other great wildlife habitats and wildlife experiences) to spread our clients." It seeks a "clear 'road map' as to how to build a better nature tourism industry that delivers both an exceptional wildlife experience to our clients — comparable with many other parts of the world in which we are in fierce competition — but most importantly a powerful tool for conservation to save our Forests and Wildlife." But it notes, "sadly, the guidelines do not yet offer any of these benefits."

'Man-eater' tiger trapped

TNN | Aug 27, 2012, 04.56AM IST MYSORE: The tiger, which supposedly killed a tribal woman, was trapped by forest department officials at Heggadadevana Kote on Sunday. The big cat was shifted to the Mysore zoo to treat an injury on its left front limb. It had two scars from old injuries on its back. Five hours after the 'man-eater' was sighted at around 12.30 pm near Heballa, forest officials succeeded in rescuing the tiger, aged around 10 years, by tranquilizing it. Initially, sharp shooters Akram and Karumbaiah missed the tiger twice as it sat hidden behind a bush. As there was no elevated place nearby, an elephant from Ane Chowkur elephant camp was pressed into action to rescue the injured cat. Abhimanyu, a Dasara elephant, was brought to the spot at around 4pm. The sharp shooters then sat on Abhimanyu, along with mahout Vasanth and tranquilized the animal within an hour. "The tiger sat near a bush and was struggling to move due to the injury," veterinarian K S Umashankar told TOI. Mysore territorial DCF Gaonkar said after the attack on Mahadevamma, the tribal woman, at the vicinity of Bommalapura, the department had been on high alert. An officer said the tiger may have entered human habitat in search of an easy prey as the animal was aged and injured. The authorities are yet to take a decision on leaving the tiger back to the forest after treatment, considering that it had turned a man-eater.

Abandoned cub in Panna to get a new home in Kanha

TNN | Aug 27, 2012, 02.07AM IST BHOPAL: The six -month old tiger cub that was abandoned by a tigress in the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) would shortly get a new home in the world's famous Kanha Tiger Reserve (KTR). "We are going to shift the tiger cub by road to KTR where it would be housed in an enclosure before being released in the wild," PTR field director RS Murthy told TOI. A divisional forest officer (DFO) and veterinarian would accompany the cub from PTR to KTR, he added. "Possibly we might shift the cub on Monday or later this week," Murthy said. All preparations have to be made at KTR for housing the cub, officials said. Kanha sanctuary has perfected the art of hand-rearing cubs by successfully raising two orphaned tigresses. KTR is having an enclosure in which the two orphaned tigresses were reared and later on trans-located to PTR to revive the big cat population. More than three months ago, a tigress christened T-1 abandoned the cub in PTR after which the NTCA asked the MP forest department to shift it to Van Vihar zoo and animal rescue and rehabilitation here. But the forest officials had asked National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) that it wants to shift the cub to KTR which was cleared. The tigress christened T- 1 gave birth to this cub along with three others in a cave of PTR on February 16. On March 29, the tigress shifted to another cave some 2 km away from the first but didn't carry the fragile cub. But, it returned to its previous cave on April 2 and fed this abandoned cub. This time also, T - 1 didn't take the cub with it after which the PTR authorities with electronic gadgets, kept a watch on its movement and when its condition deteriorated it was rescued from the cave on April 12 and kept in a well-equipped room in PTR. Felines usually abandon their cubs when they turn weak, according to wildlife experts.

Illegal construction of resort near Nagzira core area stalled

TNN | Aug 27, 2012, 01.28AM IST GONDIA: The construction of a commercial resort barely 5 metres from Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary core area border was stalled on Thursday after sustained efforts by the green volunteers. An entrepreneur of Raipur had started resort work by flouting norms about a year and a half back, taking advantage of duel jurisdiction of forest and revenue departments. But Nisarga Mandal pursued the matter and the forest department finally stalled the resort work on Thursday. With the completion of Adani thermal power plant, the number of visitors to Nagzira was expected to go up substantially. Seeing an opportunity, Dr Jaffar Khan of Raipur purchased 8 acres land allegedly in the name of his tribal employees near village Jambli (Khamba) in Sakoli tehsil on the outskirts of the sanctuary. The work on the huge resort was started soon. Eyebrows were raised as no construction activity is allowed within 10km of the wildlife sanctuary. But the problem was that this area technically came under the revenue jurisdiction of Bhandara district while the sanctuary was under the Gondia jurisdiction. The developer was claiming that he had all the mandatory sanctions required for the project from National Board of Wildlife or revenue department, New Delhi. And the work continued unabated till recently. When Nisarga Mandal started opposing the resort citing the Supreme Court directives on protection of tigers and necessity for corridors, assistant conservator of forest (wildlife), Umarzari, issued a notice to Jaffar Khan on May 31. It said the construction activity had increased poaching in the area and a bison was killed on May 27. The letter also said the noise of generators and construction work was disturbing wildlife. It was also posing a hindrance to the proposed tiger corridor connecting Pench, Kanha National Park, Nagzira, Navegaon and Tadoba Andhari reserve. The department asked the developer to stop resort work and submit the various permissions and NOCs. Despite serving a notice, the construction was continuing till now. However, due to pressure from Nisarga Mandal, a team of forest and revenue department officials visited the spot and directed the developer to stop work immediately. The work was subsequently stopped. Ashok Khune, ACF (wildlife) of the newly formed New Nagzira Wildlife Zone, Umarzari, said the construction was hardly a couple of metres away from the core area border and needed to be destroyed immediately. Sakoli ACF (wildlife) DD Patle under whom the disputed construction comes said the developer had been asked to stop the work. "The developer has given a written undertaking that the work would not be started till he produced the requisite permission," said Patle. Speaking to TOI, Dr Jaffar Khan denied the allegations and claimed that such stories were spread by some officers of the forest department having vested interests. He said, "this was not a tribal land since the last 75 years as per revenue records. Moreover, these restrictions were applicable only for tiger protection routes and Nagzira was never a tiger project," he added. Swahila, wife of Dr Jaffar Khan Rubi Khan, purchased 2.25 acre land on February 27 last year. She obtained non-agriculture certificate from the tehsildar on May 12, 2011 and also a no objection certificate from Khanba-Jamdi Gram Panchayat after a resolution was passed on September 25, 2011. The land was measured by the revenue department in the presence of RFO, he said. Khan claimed that the caretaker at the site was forced by the forest officers to give an undertaking to stop construction on August 24. He said, "this was done without my consent and therefore was not binding."

Andhra Pradesh cool to tiger tourism ban debate

Sudipta Sengupta, TNN | Aug 27, 2012, 03.38AM IST HYDERABAD: Hitting headlines and engaging environmentalists in unending debates is the Union ministry of environment & forest's (MoEF) flip-flop over banning tourism in core areas of India's tiger reserves. But back home in Andhra Pradesh these goings-on have failed to even remotely perturb officials of the forest department who maintain that the ban has little or no relevance in the state. Incidentally, AP houses India's largest tiger reserve, the Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR), which is spread over an area of 4,500 square kilometres. The tiger count here is pegged between 53 and 67 at present. The official indifference is largely rooted in the complete absence of tourism activity in and around NSTR. Barring two vehicles deployed for a mini safari from Farahabad into the forest, the tiger reserve has no other tourist packages on offer. But, following the SC ban, even this service has been suspended. The Mallela Theertham waterfall in the middle of dense growth, though still open to public, continues to register negligible footfall. The average annual count of tourists to these sites, maintained by local tribals under the state's community-based eco-tourism (CBET) programme, is just about 3,000-4,000. Miles away from the 'den', even the peripheral pocket of Mannanur (check-post located at the entrance to the forest) receives only a handful of tourists at the 10 government cottages available there. "All of them are pilgrims either returning from or on their way to the Srisailam temple. A stop in the forest is just incidental," said Farida Tampal, state director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-India). While Tampal was for a ban on over-commercialisation of tiger reserves, she feels that a 'controlled-tourism' concept should be implemented to make people aware of AP's wildlife wealth. "Camps and tours in the peripheral region might not be a bad idea. Right now, the NSTR is completely off the tourism radar," she added. The reserve's core area covers close to 3,500sqkm with a buffer zone of 1,100sqkm. Forest officials, however, aren't complaining. The missing tourists, they argue, help preserve the sanctity of NSTR. "The tiger reserve has little scope for tourism owing to its rocky terrain. The probability of sighting tigers here is very low. Why would tourists want to come here?" questioned Rahul Pandey, field director, NSTR. That such limited access to the forest deters revenue collection as well is a problem that does not seem to bother the department either. "The government does not earn even a penny from this tiger reserve. Both Mallela Theertam and Mannanur are managed by locals under CBET. The revenue generated from these places is shared among them," Pandey said. That the collections are abysmally low, estimated to be at around Rs 15 lakh per year, is another story. But while the state government department, irrespective of the interim ban, insists that it has no plans to boost tourism in NSTR, some environmentalists seem to believe otherwise. They say that forest officials had been engaged in drawing up an eco-tourism project within the reserve's core area prior to the SC ruling. "The project has obviously been stalled now. But depending upon the court's final verdict, it might resurface again," the wildlife expert said on condition of anonymity.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tribals have right to live near wildlife sanctuaries: Supreme Court

Read more on »wildlife sanctuaries|V Kishore Chandra Deo|Supreme Court|Kishore Chandra NEW DELHI: The Centre would approach the Supreme Court to look into the rightful claims of tribals living near wildlife sanctuaries, while addressing the ban on tiger tourism. On July 24, the Supreme Court had issued a stern directive to nine states to notify core and buffer zones of tiger reserves and prohibit any tourism within the core breeding grounds of the big cats. Following the order, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has received alarming reports of forcible eviction of tribals from near wildlife sanctuaries. Speaking to ET, Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo said, "In the name of demarcating core and buffer zones after the Supreme Court order, the state governments are deliberately evicting forest dwellers from their land. We have received alarming reports of eviction of tribals from Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh." The minister said that the Supreme Court has not been kept informed about the ground realities in the wildlife sanctuaries. "Tribals have a symbiotic existence with wildlife for decades now. The states have not implemented the Forest Rights Act and PESA. Under these Acts they need to recognise the tribal's right to their land. Now they are evicting them and depriving them of their means of livelihood," Deo said. His ministry would now make a case for first implementing existing laws and protecting interest of tribals, while making efforts for conservation of the natural breeding grounds for tigers. The SC would hear the matter on Wednesday. Only Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Arunachal Pradesh notified breeding grounds and filed affidavits, after the court's April 3 directive. The court on July 24 gave states three weeks to demarcate core and buffer zones but Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka are yet to respond.

MoEF takes a U-turn on tourism ban in core of tiger reserves

Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN | Aug 22, 2012, 04.23AM IST NEW DELHI: A month after the Supreme Court relied on the government's guidelines to ban tourism in core areas of tiger reserves, making popular destinations like Corbett National Park out of bounds for wildlife enthusiasts, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) on Tuesday did an about turn, telling the court that it needed to re-think the guidelines. The SC's July 24 order banning tourism in core areas had led to loud protests from states and thriving commercial ventures in and around tiger reserves. The ministry, which had gone to great lengths to finalize the detailed guidelines, appears to have wilted under political and commercial pressure and sought time from the court to review its "finalized" guidelines. On July 9, MoEF filed the 'Guidelines for Ecotourism in and around Protected Areas' in the apex court and said, "Any core area in tiger reserve from which relocation has been carried out will not be used for tourism activities." The guidelines were based on key recommendations of the Tiger Task Force (2005) and were in sync with Section 38(v) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (as amended in 2006), which defined core/critical wildlife habitats as such areas that needed to be kept inviolate for tiger conservation without affecting the rights of Scheduled Tribes or forest dwellers. But on Tuesday, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) functioning under the MoEF in its affidavit through advocate Wasim A Qadri said the Union government had received inputs and suggestions from states in the context of the SC's interim order banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserves and that it needed time to consider them. "The states have expressed concern that many local people depend on tourism for their livelihood and hence stoppage of tourism in core areas of tiger reserves would result in loss of such income leading to discontent which may be a threat to wildlife and forests," the NTCA said. "Besides, the common citizen would be deprived of an opportunity to appreciate our natural heritage. Further, concerns have been expressed from various quarters on the process adopted by states in notifying the buffer areas of tiger reserve," it said. Citing the loss of income to local population and people being deprived of appreciating wildlife heritage, the Union government requested the court to permit it to "review the guidelines and conduct more consultations with all stakeholders including state governments and representatives of local and indigenous communities besides reviewing the process adopted by states in notifying buffer areas of tiger reserves". But in the guidelines submitted to the court on July 9, the Centre was well aware of the tourism activities happening in core areas of tiger reserves. "Given that tourism has been happening in these core/critical areas, there is a need for phasing this out and moving it to peripheral/buffer areas to benefit local communities," it had said. "Within five years, permanent facilities located inside of core tiger habitat/critical wildlife habitat, which are being used for wildlife tourism, should be phased out," it added.

Govt backs off on tourism ban in core tiger areas

Anindo Dey, TNN | Aug 22, 2012, 12.59AM IST JAIPUR: A month after the Supreme Court banned tourism in core areas of tiger reserves on the basis of Union environment ministry's guidelines, the ministry did an about turn on Tuesday, telling the court that it needed to rethink the guidelines. The SC order banning tourism in core areas had led to loud protests from states and thriving commercial ventures in and around tiger reserves. In an affidavit, the Centre cited loss of livelihood and a threat to wildlife and forests in the event of a ban on tourism. The affidavit also mentions loss of a chance for the common people to see the natural heritage. The affidavit, jointly filed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the ministry of environment and forests, says that the earlier guidelines need to be reviewed as it required more consultations with stakeholders. State govt keen to lift ban on tiger tourism The Centre on Tuesday moved the Supreme Court seeking its permission to review the existing guidelines on tiger sanctuaries in the country, on which basis the court had imposed a ban on tourism in the core area of tiger reserves. In fact, Rajasthan has been taking a keen initiative to get the ban lifted. On Tuesday morning, minister for tourism, forests and environment Bina Kak got a call from the ministry of forests and environment (MoEF) confirming the receipt of a letter she had sent to the chairperson of the National Advisory Committee (NAC) Sonia Gandhi, after the court order. "I had written to the chairperson of the NAC and president of Congress Sonia Gandhi requesting her to direct the MoEF for a review and a revision of the guidelines submitted to the court for tourism in tiger reserves. This morning I got a call from Union minister Jayanthi Natarajan that a copy of my letter has been forwarded to her by the NAC chairperson," said Kak. The minister has also been coordinating with forests ministers from other tiger states for becoming a party to the case. "I have spoken to Chhagan Bhujbal in Maharashtra and to the forest ministers from Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh and Union minister Subodh Kant Sahay. We will all be a party in the case now," she said. "Wildlife is important but so is tourism. However, tourism should be regulated. Often tourists serve as an eye for us. As far as Rajasthan is concerned, we have done everything that was told to us by the NTCA. This time when I went to Ranthambore even the small time hotel owners were also on a dharna following the order but they have confidence in the government of Rajasthan. They assured us that they will do whatever we tell them to. Even if the Supreme Court allows them inside but if we tell them not to do so they will abide by us," Kak added. Not different are the view of conservation groups. "We have all seen the guidelines of the MoEF ever since the court order. There are definite flaws in them. In fact, the government of Rajasthan, which has a hotel inside the forest premises, feel more than the others. There are some NGOs that might too intervene," said conservation biologist Dharmendra Khandal of Tiger Watch.

Tigers reign as people leave

Anindo Dey, TNN | Aug 22, 2012, 01.01AM IST JAIPUR: The shifting of a few villages from the periphery of Ranthambore National Park has started showing results. The big cats, which were scrambling for space, have now more space to move around and expand their breeding zones. On Tuesday morning, tigress T-22 was seen mating with tiger T-23 in Bodal beat near Mordungri village. Thirty families from the village moved to Amli, some 35 km away in Tonk district, barely a month back. Originally consisting of about 157 families, the rest had earlier took the offer of cash package of Rs 10 lakh and relocated. "It is good news indeed. My officers were on their field trip when they sighted the two tigers barely yards away from the Mordungri village. The tigers were mating. T-22 is the mother of T-23 and T-24," said Bina Kak, minister for tourism, forests and environment. "While tracking on Tuesday around 7.30 am, I noticed fresh pugmarks on the road towards Gura and heard tigers' roar on the right. On intensive tracking, the male and female were noticed together and were seen mating 4-6 times," says Rajesh Gupta, field director, Ranthambore. Officials are hopeful that if and when T-22 litters, it would probably choose some area near Mordungri. Earlier in April, tigress T-9 had given birth to two cubs close to Padra village which was relocated in December 2011. "The relocation of Mordungri was possible because of a pivotal role played by Sawai Madhopur district collector Giriraj Singh Kushwaha. He was ably assisted by my officers. The villagers who vacated moved away on their own and were never coaxed. They were provided land as compensation apart from gas connections, poverty line cards and water supply," added Kak. Mordungri is situated at a strategic point along the corridor extending from the Ranthambore National Park and the Sawai Man Singh sanctuary. "The removal of disturbances adds to the natal area for tigers. Natal areas are breeding zones for tigers. In this case, with the villagers shifting, the tigers automatically occupied these areas for breeding. We are hopeful that the relocation of more villages will further add to the habitat of tigers here," said an official. So far, 15 villages have been relocated from Ranthambore since 1976. While 12 were relocated in that year, Indala was relocated in 2008-09. Machangi in 2009-10, Padra in 2010-11 and finally Mordungri in 2012. The relocation of these villages will add to more space for the tiger population that has been burgeoning. Currently there are about 52 tigers, including 27 cubs in the reserve. However, there are more villages awaiting relocation and officials say that Katauli and Bhid villages may be the next in line.

Govt notifies Sahyadri reserve buffer

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Aug 22, 2012, 01.14AM IST NAGPUR: A day ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserves, the Maharashtra government finally notified buffer zone of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve (STR) along the crest of Western Ghats in Kolhapur Wildlife Division in Western Maharashtra. According to highly placed sources, both, the buffer and core area of the STR will combine an area of 1,165.56 sq km. It includes buffer zone of 424.34 sq km. The state had notified 741.22 sq km STR on January 5, 2010. It consisted of Chandoli National Park (317.67 sq km) and Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary (423.55 sq km). However, sources said of the 741.22 sq km actual core area i.e. critical tiger habitat (CTH) will be 600.21 sq km. The remaining 141 sq km area has been included in the buffer. According to Wildlife Institute of India estimation, there are 24 tigers in the tiger reserve and its landscape. "The CTH area has been chosen after consultations with gram sabhas, inquiries and expert committee's decision under the provisions of Section 38 (V) of the amended Wildlife Protection Act 1972," officials told TOI. Maharashtra's principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) SWH Naqvi said a detailed notification about the buffer will be out soon. He refused to comment further, saying the matter would be heard in the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The National Board for Wild Life has already recommended rationalization of Koyna sanctuary by excluding around 100 sq km area of the STR which includes 14 villages and windmill projects. However, the condition is that Maharashtra will have to notify proposed sanctuaries like Rajmachi (122 sq km), Sudhagarh-Tamni (220.18 sq km), Tipagad (52.4 sq km), Isapur (121.55 sq km) and Kolamarka (187 sq km) in the future. Considering the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines, a tiger reserve should be around 800-1000 sq km with an equal area of buffer for breeding of 100 tigers. However, barring Melghat, no tiger reserve in the state fulfils the guidelines. The Supreme Court will hear the petition filed by Prayatna, an NGO based in Bhopal, demanding ban on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves on Wednesday. On July 24, the apex court had rapped the states for not notifying buffer zones around tiger reserves and had imposed a ban on tourism in core areas of reserves till further orders.

Rehabilitation work of Tadoba villages on fast track

Mazhar Ali, TNN | Aug 22, 2012, 01.35AM IST CHANDRAPUR: The rehabilitation work of the two villages Navegaon (Ramdegi) and Jamni, that are being relocated out of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, has been put on the fast track. While government has expedited the work for constructing civic amenities, beneficiary villagers, too, have began construction of their residences at rehabilitation sites. Nearly 50% of families from the two villages have availed the benefits of practical rehabilitation, while the other half have opted for Rs10 lakh cash compensation package. Navegaon village is being rehabilitated in near Khadsangi village, while Jamni village is being rehabilitated near Amdi village. Both these rehabilitation villages are in Chimur forest range. There were six villages inside TATR. During first phase of rehabilitation, entire Botezari and part of Kolsa village was rehabilitated out of the tiger reserve in year 2007. Out of 230 families from Navegaon village, 115 have opted for rehabilitation, while remaining 115 have sought Rs10 lakh cash compensation. Similarly out of 218 families in Jamni, 105 have opted for rehabilitation and 113 families have decided to go with cash benefit of Rs10 lakh. Work at Khadsangi is slightly ahead of that of Amdi. Field director and CCF, TATR, Virendra Tiwari said, "We have accomplished levelling of 200 hectares of agricultural land out of the 250 hectares in the village. We have constructed the water tank and laid the pipeline. Even tap connections at 112 plots have been provided. Electrification work is also nearly accomplished with erection of electric line through 192 poles and installation of three transformers." At Amdi, electrification work is underway, while laying of water supply pipeline has been accomplished in 5.5km. Work of constructing public tube wells has been completed, while construction of water supply tank is underway. The levelling work of agricultural fields has been done in only 40 hectares of land, Tiwari said. PCCF (wildlife) SWH Naqvi and state forest secretary Pravin Pardeshi are keeping a close tab on the work at both the sites. Both officers have inspected the work several times and have interacted with the beneficiary villagers to seek their reaction about it.

Centre seeks court’s nod for review of tiger reserve norms

J. VENKATESAN ‘States feel ban will affect local people dependent on tourism for livelihood’ Under pressure from various States, the Central government has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court seeking permission to review the guidelines issued under the Wildlife (Protection) Act for the States to ban all tourism activities in core areas of tiger reserve forests. The case will come up for hearing on Wednesday. On July 24, a Bench of Justices Swatatner Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifulla imposed the ban, when told that most of the States had not complied with the directions contained in the guidelines. On Tuesday, Wasim A. Qadri, counsel for the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, filed the affidavit. Subsequent to the July 24 order, he said, the States sent in representations saying that they would like to give inputs for reviewing the guidelines. “The States have expressed concern that many local people depend on tourism for their livelihood, and hence stoppage of tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves would result in [a] loss of such income, leading to discontent which may be a threat to wildlife and forests. Besides, the common citizen would be deprived of an opportunity to appreciate our natural heritage. Further, concerns have been expressed in various quarters at the process adopted by the States for notifying the buffer areas of the tiger reserves,” the affidavit said. “The NTCA feels that the guidelines, submitted in the context of ecotourism in and around protected areas, require a further review based on more consultations with all stakeholders, including the State governments and representatives of local, indigenous communities.” Hence, the court should permit the NTCA to further review the guidelines and hold more consultations with all stakeholders and go through the process the States adopted for notifying the buffer areas. Several States, non-governmental organisations and other interested parties had also filed applications for lifting the ban. The Bench passed the ban order on a petition filed by conservationist Ajay Dubey seeking a direction to the States to notify the buffer/peripheral areas of tiger reserves for prevention of tourism in the core areas. Subsequently, 10 States issued the notification.

First tiger force in Karnataka

Express News Service Karnataka is the first state to create a special tiger protection force (STPF) in the Bandipur tiger reserve, said Environment and Forest Minister Jayanti Natrajan on Tuesday in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha. Natrajan said that under the ongoing centrally sponsored scheme of ‘Project Tiger’, 100 per cent central assistance is provided to states for raising, arming and deploying in sensitive tiger reserves, stated a press statement from the Environment Ministry. Based on tiger abundance and vulnerability, 12 tiger reserves in the country have been identified. They are Dudhwa in Uttar Pradesh, Corbett in Uttarakhand, Ranthambhore in Rajasthan, Pench, Kanha and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, Pakke in Arunachal Pradesh, Bandipur in Karnataka, Pench in Maharashtra, Kaziranga in Assam and Similipal in Assam.

Central tiger conservation delegation visits Palamu

TNN | Aug 22, 2012, 02.28AM IST RANCHI: A three-member team from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is on a field visit to the Palamu Tiger Reserve (PTR) to assess the state of conservation of the big cat in Jharkhand. The team members held talks with villagers, forest guards and staff engaged in the conservation of forests, development of green cover and eco development. Though no official could be contacted over phone for his comment, sources at PTR said they were pretty dissatisfied with the conservation efforts at the park. They will continue with their field visit on Wednesday also. Sources said the NTCA is vexed with the rapid decline in the number of tigers at PTR. The appraisal team will also meet the Jharkhand forest secretary on Thursday and hold discussions with him. The NTCA team consists of former director of Tiger Project, P K Sen, who is also the former wildlife warden of Jharkhand; retired principal chief conservator of forests, Tamil Nadu, S Raju; and Jyoti Das of NTCA. The Jharkhand principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), A K Malhotra, also accompanied the officials during their inspection.

Raja writes to PM on tiger reserves

New Delhi: Forest rights of tribals and the poor were being denied due to creation of buffer zones around tiger reserves without implementing the Forests Rights Act and sought an immediate halt to such moves, a CPI MP today said. Noting that the 2006 Wildlife (Prevention) Act necessitated coexistence between wildlife and human activity in consultation with the gram sabhas, CPI leader D Raja said "none of the steps (required by the Act) are being followed." "Driven by a series of short Supreme Court deadlines, state governments across the country are hastily notifying buffer zones around tiger reserves," he said in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Raja said the Environment Ministry had not yet stated what activities would or would not be permitted in the buffer zones. "Moreover, in the time that has been granted by the Supreme Court, meaningful consultation is simply not possible." He said this problem was compounded by the fact that in 2007, tiger reserves and some additional areas were notified as 'critical tiger habitats' "without any public input or scientific study at all". Observing that such moves had "already led to conflicts" including mass protests in several states over denial of people's rights to minor forest produce, Raja said "I call upon you to halt this brazen illegality by the central and state governments" and to ensure that the apex court was informed of the actual legal and ground position. "Failing to do so would amount to violating the rights of lakhs of people and ensuring that tiger conservation in this country is once again seen as an excuse by the forest bureaucracy to empower and enrich itself," Raja said. PTI

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Valmik Thapar calls for review of tourism ban recommendation in core tiger areas

Aug 21, 2012, 12.00AM IST TIMES VIEW Tourism complements conservation Tiger expert Valmik Thapar's call for a review of the Union environment ministry's guidelines recommending a ban on tiger tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves is sensible. There's no denying the fact that the tiger population in the country is precarious. Massive efforts are needed to crack down on poaching and boost tiger numbers. However, tiger tourism isn't incompatible with this aim. In fact, sealing off core areas of tiger reserves would curb accountability, lead to unemployment among locals and create fertile grounds for poaching. If tiger numbers have seen a small rise from 1,400 to 1,700 since 2008, it's because of smarter conservation efforts, of which tiger tourism is an integral part. The main threat to the tiger population is from the illegal trade in tiger parts. Tiger bones, skin, teeth, claws, etc valued at millions of dollars are smuggled worldwide through an insidious network over which no single authority can exercise jurisdiction. In such a scenario, the only way to curb this illegal trade is to educate people about conservation efforts. This is where tiger tourism comes in. Conducted in the proper way, it can sensitise the public about the threat to tigers from adverse human activities. Meanwhile, by employing locals, tiger tourism can make them valuable stakeholders in conservation efforts - it becomes their interest to protect tiger habitats to ensure the viability of tourism activities. On the other hand, banning tourism in core areas would greatly reduce interest in tiger tourism and diminish the economic viability of the reserves. This would make it far easier for poachers to infiltrate the reserves by co-opting the forest rangers. The experience in African countries too has shown that ecotourism is critical to conservation efforts. Instead of completely banning tourism in core tiger areas, the focus must shift to sensitive tourism that complements tiger conservation policies. COUNTERVIEW It's as harmful as poaching Pyaralal Raghavan The attempt to force the prime minister to intervene and review the tourism ban in core areas of the tiger reserves speaks a lot of the power of the wildlife tourism lobby. But it does not change the fact that India's tiger population of around 1,706 is too minuscule to be weighed down with the burden of attracting millions of wildlife tourists each year. Though wildlife tourism may stake a claim to the presumed success of the tiger protection efforts, one should remember that the increase in tiger population in recent years is mainly because of the larger additions in the far-flung northeastern hills, the Brahmaputra flood plains and the Western Ghats, which are too far away for the hordes of urban tourists that plague the wildlife sanctuaries during holiday seasons and long weekends. In contrast, the more tourist-heavy tiger sanctuaries in the Shivalik Gangetic plains, central India and Eastern Ghats, where tiger reserves have almost become like open zoos, have shown no such improvement. The popular argument that wildlife tourism generates local employment and income and provides an incentive to check on poaching is dubious, given our experience with the Sariska and Panna reserves where the tiger popu-lation went totally extinct. And the trend continues even now with 23 tigers poached inside the tiger reserves and another 42 outside the tiger reserves in the last three years alone. The impact of wildlife tourism is negative as growing numbers of tourists and resorts not only hinder the free movement of animals but are also a large drain on scarce resources like water. Many even point out that the killing of smaller animals for meat, so that tigers can be lured to where tourists view them, has led to a depletion of smaller wildlife in many areas. It is best, therefore, that tigers are protected both from poachers and tourists with equal vigour.

Short of male tigers, Palamu's future bleak

Chetan Chauhan Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times Yet another tiger habitat --- Palamu in Jharkhand --- is moving towards losing its native tiger population as happened in Panna and Sariska years ago. Sariska in Rajasthan was the first tiger reserve to lose its native population by 2004 because of poaching and human-animal conflict. Five years later the same story was repeated in Panna about 500 kms south-east, in northern Madhya Pradesh. Now, Palamu --- among the first reserves to be notified when Project Tiger came into being in 1973 --- is hit by a skewed sex ratio with one male tiger in the six big cats remaining as per the latest official count, latest DNA-scat analysis has revealed. Skewed sex ratio was one of the reasons for Panna losing its tigers. The problem, according to local forest officials, is that of the remaining population only one is male tiger, who is also aged and incapable of breeding. “The lone tiger is about ten years old,” a senior forest government official said. An average age of tigers is about 12 years or less and they can breed up to six to seven years. In such a circumstance, the probability of the Palamu’s male tiger copulating with any of the remaining five tigresses is very less. The additional hindrance is that there is no female big cat in Betla forest range, where the lone male tiger was traced. “It is wait and watch situation for us,” the official said, acknowledging the gravity. Wildlife experts say population in Palamu may be lesser than estimated because two-third of the 414 sq km reserve is under control of Naxals and out of bound for the forest department officials. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had estimated 10 tigers in Palamu in 2010 without having even a single picture of a tiger. “The estimation was based on presence of (very low) prey population,” said a scientist at Dehradun based Wildlife Institute of India, which finalized the estimation. Recent attempt of the forest department to capture pictures of the tigers was foiled with Naxals taking away the camera traps resulting in an eye of suspicion over estimation. An official said that “nobody wants to work here because of the fear of Naxals” and monitoring is being done with by “just 30 % of the required frontline staff”. The forest department is, however, convinced of low tiger density because of the falling prey population --- an indicator used to estimate tiger population. The possible way-out --- relocation of a young male tigers to copulate with the female tigresses to preserve native tiger population --- is also not easy. Reason: Jharkhand does not have any other source of tigers within the state from relocation as Sariska and Panna had. Palamu will have to get the animal from neighbouring states such as Bihar (13 tigers), Orissa (32 tigers) or Madhya Pradesh (257 tigers). Getting approval of another state government will not be easy. Although the situation is said to be grave in Palamu, where tiger population had come down from 44 in 1997 to six, the state forest department is yet to take a call on next possible action. “There is no proposal for relocation from Jharkhand,” a NTCA official said.

Tourism workers in MP Pench to protest ban

TNN | Aug 21, 2012, 05.48AM IST NAGPUR: Over 150 stakeholders including Gypsy owners, guides and local villagers adjoining Madhya Pradesh side of Pench Tiger Reserve will take out a peace rally on Tuesday demanding withdrawal of ban on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves in the country. On July 24, Supreme Court had imposed an interim ban on tourism in core areas after states failed to notify buffer zones around their tiger reserves. The rally has been planned a day before the court is scheduled to review the interim ban. Sandeep Singh, who is leading the rally, told TOI the tourism ban would leave hundreds of youths unemployed and deprive their families of bread and butter. "At this juncture Pench in MP is not ready to take on the challenge of tourism in buffer unlike Tadoba in Maharashtra where buffer is almost ready," Singh said. A section of villagers said the ban would deprive them of livelihood as many of them worked in resorts near Pench. Singh said most of the Gypsy owners were youths from nearby villages who had bought vehicles on loans and had instalments to pay. The peace rally will start at 8.30am and travel a distance of 50km to Seoni where the villagers will submit a memorandum to district collector Ajit Kumar and Pench field director Alok Kumar.

Nagarahole tiger gets back into its den

HM Aravind, TNN | Aug 20, 2012, 10.58PM IST MYSORE: The tiger that entered human habitat bordering Nagarahole national park creating panic has silently slid back into the woods safely in the wee hours on Monday. Though the big cat has left, the forest department is not taking chance and has kept the cage at the site where it hid even as the villagers are a worried lot. The officials have asked them to be cautious but are not thinking to relocate it, something which the wildlife experts also endorsed. Though the exact age of the tiger cannot be ascertained by the officials, they believe it to have passed its prime. Attacking cattle and returning to the same area within 48 hours is the basis for their suspicion. The officials believe that the cat is old leading it to come out of the forest cover in search of easy food at the forest fringe in Dasanapura, 50 kms from Mysore. A field level staff said they have plans to nab the tiger if it resurfaces in the human habitat. The tiger went back to the woods in the wee hours. Hope it'll not come back to the village again, additional principal conservator of forests B J Hosamath told TOI. Asked whether they have plan to catch the tiger, he said: "Why should we? There is no need. The cat has walked back into its den and we hope it'll not get back again." When contacted, tiger expert Samba Kumar of Bangalore-based Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) said Nagarahole has one of the highest density of tiger population in India. The productive population is also high, he said. According to our studies, there are 12 tigers per 100 sq kms. Territorial issues could have pushed the tiger to come out of the forested area, the expert with noted tiger biologist Ullas Karanth led CWS, stated. The forest department should adopt scientific means like camera trapping to get the images of the tiger that has wandered out of the woods. Based on the details, we can conclude its age and the behaviour, he explained. Experts said given healthy prey-predator base, Nagarahole's 643 sq kms is not sufficient for the tiger population. They said unless the age of the tiger is established well beyond doubt, it is difficult to predict why it came into human habitation. It could be either that it is aged or that it is young cub trying to establish its territory. A wildlife activist, who has worked in Nagarahole and Bandipur tiger reserves and wished not to be named, said it is difficult to predict the age of the cats by looking at them. Only scientific methods will reveal it, he stated adding the database available with the CWS can be relied upon the determine the age. The experts pointed out that a tiger continuously attacked cattle in and around Sunkadakatte in Nagarahole when the officials believed it to be old. But when it was finally trapped, it was revealed that it was two years old after the details were run through the CWS database. Later it was relocated to Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, they stated. Some four years back an aged tiger was found attacking cattle in Kutta in Kodagu.

No need for tourism revenue to protect tigers: Forest dept

Subhash Chandra N S Bangalore: Aug 20 , 2012 DH News Service SC ban hasn’t affected conservation The theory that a ban on tiger tourism will affect the conservation of the critically endangered big cat was rubbished by the State Forest department, which claimed that it was able to initiate protective measures without funds from tourism. The Supreme Court’s interim order to ban tiger tourism in the last week of July created a flutter. Several wildlife enthusiasts and resort owners predicted almost “the beginning of the end of tiger conservation” in the country. Many of them claimed they supported conservation by sharing their revenue which will add to funds for conservation. They further said the Forest department would be the loser due to this order. “Especially during this year (2012-2013), when the funds for Project Tiger have not been released, the situation will be worse,” said a wildlife enthusiast who advocated controlled tourism to boost conservation. However, the department held a contrary view and says the ban has not affected conservation at all. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and Chief Wildlife Warden Dipak Sarmah told Deccan Herald that it will not affect conservation programmes. “We have been able to manage things so far (since the day of the apex court order). We will continue to do so,” he said. He said tourism was just a source of income for the department. Tiger conservation receives funds from various sources. “It is just one source of income; there are several other sources. We have our department budget,“ he said. Explaining the funding for the project, the PCCF said tiger reserves received funds from the Union government as well as the State government. When asked about the delay in getting funds for conservation from the Union government, he said the State will get its funds by the end of September or October. The department has received about Rs 10 crore from the Union government for Project Tiger (Rs 148 lakh for the BRT tiger reserve, Rs 199 lakh for the Anshi-Dandeli tiger reserve, Rs 282 lakh for Bandipur tiger reserve, Rs 269 lakh for the Bhadra tiger reserve and Rs 192 lakh for Nagarhole). Another ten crore rupees would be contributed by the State government. Following a public interest litigation filed by Bhopal-based activist Ajay Dubey seeking direction to remove all commercial tourism activities from the core areas in the tiger reserves, the apex court had banned tiger tourism in core areas.

Chorus against FAC members gets louder

MONDAY, 20 AUGUST 2012 23:53 PIONEER NEWS SERVICE | NEW DELHI The newly-constituted Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has kicked up a controversy over the choice of two of its independent members, who have been alleged to have a clear interest in mining and hydroelectricity. It’s their conflict of interest that has led environmentalists to be up in arms against the duo’s selection. The FAC is the statutory body that decides on key issues related to diversion of forest land for road, mining and other development projects in the country. In a letter (dated August 20), written to Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, a large number of environmentalists have urged her to immediately cancel the appointments of two of its members KP Nyati and Prof NP Todria as independent members of the FAC and reconstitute the committee. Himanshu Thakkar, from the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, pointed to the fact that since 1992 Nyati has been part of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), representing the interests of the industry in one way or the other. He is the head of Sustainable Mining Initiative, an outfit of the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries. NP Todria is a professor from Garwhal University, in Uttarakhand, who has served as an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) consultant for hydropower companies. The environmentalists alleged Todria had publicly supported the construction of dams on the Ganges upstream. The letter to the Environment Minister states that their “appointment as members of FAC is inappropriate and would be disastrous for the remaining forests of India”. “A bare perusal of the Supreme Court order clearly shows that both the ‘non official members’, given their background, are clearly not independent experts. Mining or other development project cannot be said to be allied discipline of forestry, as underlined in the given provisions. Allied disciplines may be like, water harvesting, wildlife protection, bio-diversity etc,” the letter said. Kishor Rithe, member of NTCA committee to inspect projects on mining and thermal power projects in and around tiger reserves besides member of Standing Committee of NBWL, stated, “Experts with high credentials in forest and wildlife sector who can understand the mining, industry proposals should be placed on FAC to independently judge the projects.” The Environment Minister has, however, clarified that the choice of the independent members constituting the committee has been done as per the directives of the Supreme Court.

Friday, August 17, 2012

'SC move on buffers leading to illegalities'

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Aug 17, 2012, 02.26AM IST NAGPUR: The Supreme Court directive to states to expedite notification of buffer zones around tiger reserves is resulting in some serious illegalities by the governments. "In their rush to notify buffer areas, which the court directs should be done in three weeks, the state governments are bypassing and violating the processes laid out in the Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Rights Act (FRA)," said Ashish Kothari of Future of Conservation Network (FOC). FOC is a network of ecological and social organizations and individuals committed to effective and equitable conservation of biodiversity. FOC's objective is to foster dialogue and engagement in complex conservation issues, and help tackle the increasing threats that both biodiversity and people's livelihoods face. The apex court had recently ordered states to notify buffer areas around their tiger reserves in three weeks and had also imposed a fine on some government for not doing so. FOC said this time frame made a mockery of due process that has to be carried out for identifying and notifying buffer areas. This is because such areas have significant human populations and the law mandates that there be consultation with gram sabhas and an expert committee. The buffers aims at promoting coexistence between wildlife and human activities and there should be due recognition of the livelihood, developmental, social and cultural rights. In a number of states, the buffers were notified within seven days, a period in which the above process is impossible to carry out. The same will happen in the attempt to implement the current orders. "There is serious lack of consultation with affected villages, or very cursory consultation with a few meetings in a fraction of villages. There is also no guidance on how to achieve coexistence between wildlife and communities. Even where villages have objected to the process or to the notification of buffer, their views have been ignored," Kothari said. In the buffer of Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), transit and sale of non-timber forest produce (NTFP) is being restricted and even people's access to their own villages is being hindered through new gates and rules in the buffer area. All this is creating a situation of hostility, antagonism, and resentment, which will backfire on conservation. The FOC said people were being displaced from several tiger reserves, without first recognizing their rights under the Forest Rights Act. In 2011 and 2012, MOEF and the ministry of tribal affairs had issued circulars to state governments that no relocation should be carried out without first completing FRA. These continue to be ignored by states and NTCA.

Caught in the frame

A. SHRIKUMAR Wildlife photographer Sriram Janak calls the forest his home, the elephants his love and the white peacock at Thiruparankundram hills his best friend “Just take my elephants on your cover, not me. They are more beautiful,” says Sriram Janak. Sriram has always loved nature and the outdoors. He still keeps water on the windowsill for squirrels and crows, and he gets excited about close encounters with birds. “I wake up in the night to listen to cuckoos on the tree near my house,” he says. “Once, nearly 200 egrets visited the pipal tree in our apartments. I also spotted a golden oriole once.” He jumps to the computer. “Let me show what I do.” Sriram shows pictures of young elephants playing at Corbett National Park. “This was last month, one of my best trips in life. I was blessed to be there.” For the next two hours, he runs slideshows of amazing frames – flying flamingos, fighting tuskers, yawning tigers and charging rhinos. “It was an evening by the Ramganga River. A herd of mother elephants and nearly 20 young ones were playing and having mud bath,” he recalls. “We watched them for hours in silence. Watching elephants is bliss.” Decades ago, armed with a fourth-hand Yashica camera, Sriram used to run behind the flameback woodpecker and paradise flycatcher that visited his grandmother’s backyard. From the backyard, he branched out to nearby Azhagar hills and discovered the purple sunbird and weaver bird. He had little idea then that someday he would come face-to-face with a full-grown wild tusker. At Corbett once, 12 elephants charged his jeep. “Even a whisper or talk can irritate animals in the forest,” says Sriram. “There are numerous instances when we have been charged by elephants and rhinos. Being a wildlife photographer is nothing glamorous or brave. It’s about immense self-satisfaction and love for animals. If you are able to connect with the psyche of animals, then nothing like it.” First tiger encounter Ten years back, he saw his first tiger in Ranthambore. “It was my first trip to the tiger reserve and the initial few safaris were dry and we couldn’t spot a tiger. And then suddenly, we got news on the walkie-talkie that a tiger is sitting right in the middle of the main road. I rushed to the spot and took so many shots.” None of his shots were great, Sriram recalls, but that moment kindled his interest. “If I get one nice shot out of 50 or 60 frames, I am happy for a week and for the next week, I go out for another,” says Sriram. “I bought a macro lens for insects and I am waiting for the rains to shoot.” Kabini Sanctuary in Karnataka and Corbett are his favourites, and he’d rather watch elephants than wait for a tiger. “They are more dynamic and there is always action and you can always get some wonderful shots,” he says. “Elephants have emotions like humans. It’s amazing to see and learn from them.” Learning from animals For Sriram, there is much to learn from animals. He says that it was the white peacock at Thiruparankundram hills that taught him patience. “I waited for one-and-a-half years to spot the bird. One day, I was there by 5.30 in the morning and finally I got to see him,” he says. “I used to go there daily and he started recognizing me. He used to come near, sit beside me and preen and even dance in front of me. He became my best friend here.” Though the area is cordoned off these days, Sriram manages to get in with permission from the forestry and temple authorities. But he rues the plastic debris left by tourists on the hills. It was also the white peacock that brought Sriram fame. “I wrote an article on the white peacock and sent the pictures along to Sanctuary Asia and it got published. Following this, I got a mail from Maneka Gandhi asking for the photograph of the peacock to be displayed at an expo in Delhi to raise funds for charity,” he beams. “I was paid fifty per cent of the money the photo fetched, with which I bought a 70-200 lens, one of the fastest lenses.” Capturing birds Early mornings in the monsoons are best to capture birds around Madurai, according to Sriram. “He would leave a note saying he is off to the hills,” says his wife, Lalitha. “I and my daughter Sumitra have been accompanying him to sanctuaries and national parks. I assist him in changing lenses quickly so that he doesn’t miss the leopard while it’s still on the tree. We are a family who love going on trips into the wild. Once we return to the city, we feel like going back again.” Sriram has been to almost all the sanctuaries in India and once to Kruger National Park in Africa, but his dream is to visit elephant country — Botswana. “I consciously save money for my trips and equipment,” he says. “I invest in shares for living.” A few of his photos have been published on covers of wildlife magazines, and a couple of shots have gone into coffee table books and the Bombay Natural History Society’s journal. Sriram has signed up for Nature’s Best, an international competition, and is waiting for the results. “In India, you really can’t live on photographs,” he says. “Wildlife photography is a costly passion. I have a 200-400 lens. Now, I’ve got a 600 and still the wants never end.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No school for children in proposed tiger reserve

K A Shaji, TNN | Aug 16, 2012, 02.57AM IST COIMBATORE: The dream of a proper school for tribal children will remain unfulfilled in Ukkiniyam village as permission for constructing a building has been denied by the forest department on the ground that it would be within the proposed Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve area. So, despite the Tamil Nadu government sanctioning 16lakhs for constructing the school building, it will remain only on paper. This has belied the claims of the forest department that it will exclude forest settlements and revenue villages from the core area of the reserve. As a result, 150 tribal children have been denied their right to education. Ukkiniyam is a hamlet in the jurisdiction of the Kuthiyalathur village panchayat. Significantly, the state government had sanctioned 16,05,000 for constructing the building under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan ( SSA) project just three months ago. According to V Mohan Kumar, a parent, Ukkiniyam is a forest village falling under Bhavani Sagar assembly constituency and one can access the nearby state highway only by walking through the dense forest for four kilometers. The village with Irula and soliga tribals is devoid of any basic facilities and the local community was illiterate. There are around 250 families in the village and their livelihood is collecting minor forest produce. They also help forest department in protection initiatives and the village never posed any threat to the wildlife. It was in 2005 that the primary school was started in the village under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and that was the first occasion when literacy came to the village. The illiterate villagers had built a makeshift shed for the school using their own resources and it reflected their keenness to ensure literacy for their wards. During the recent rains, the makeshift building collapsed and the children are now learning lessons by sitting on the open ground. As the region is famous for unexpected downpours, it has been becoming risky for the children and the teachers to continue the education exposed to inclement weather. The situation would turn worse with the onset of North East Monsoon. Meanwhile, many parents have stopped sending their children to the school citing lack of buildings. When Bhavani Sagar MLA, P L Sundaram, raised the issue before district collector and education department officials, they said the objection from forest department is preventing execution of the building project. Talking to TOI, Sundaram said he would even adopt legal means to ensure basic justice for the tribal children, who were just initiated to the world of literacy hardly seven years ago. Forest Department had recently prevented a local body in the region from conducting repair of a road to a forest settlement but the locals had conducted the repair works defying the orders.

Valparai tourism to implead in SC case on tiger reserves

K A Shaji, TNN | Aug 16, 2012, 02.32AM IST COIMBATORE: Tourist cottage owners and merchants in the plantation town of Valparai have decided to implead in the case presently going on in Supreme Court with regard to allowing tourism in tiger reserves. The decision in this regard was taken a day after Tamil Nadu government notified buffer zones for tiger reserves in the state to resume tourism activities and Valparai was classified as buffer zone of Anamalai Tiger Reserve. Over 40 homestay providers and more than 600 traders in the tea country have jointly decided to pursue their case in the Supreme Court by availing the services of an eminent advocate in New Delhi. According to them, Valparai is the only municipality in the entire country to come under a tiger reserve, be it core area or buffer zone. What irks the tourism and commercial operators in the hill station is the lack of clarity on what kind of tourism would be permitted in a buffer zone. As per the 2001 census, Valparai has an urban population of 94,962 people and their normal life would be badly affected even if the whole municipality and adjoining tea estates are treated as buffer zone, according to the tourism industry. Before it became Anamalai Tiger Reserve, the Indira Gandhi National Park had a 126-sq-km core area and 832 sq km of buffer zone. Both the core area and the buffer zone had exempted Valparai municipality and surroundings. The tourism industry here wants the same kind of exclusion from the Supreme Court now. "The issue of Valparai is very peculiar. Other areas in the country which stand close to tiger reserves are not urban like Valparai. We are here for generations and being in the buffer zone would land us in trouble,'' says S Jebaraj of Valparai Merchants Association. At present, entry to Valparai is through Aliyar and Attakatty checkposts and they continue to remain part of the core areas of Anamalai Tiger Reserve. So vehicular movement would definitely get affected and even locals would face difficulty in traveling to the plains at night to access hospitals, says Jebaraj. Even small eco-friendly construction works in the buffer zone require long procedures and there are chances of the restricted tourism becoming totally controlled by the forest department, he adds. "It is not a question of tourism alone. We have approached the local municipality, tea plantations and civil society movements to join us in impleading in the case in the Supreme Court. It is easy for the state government to demarcate core and buffer the same way as it was when the ATR was just a national park,'' says Mohammed Shafi, secretary of Valparai Tourist Cottages Welfare Association. Meanwhile, they clarified that the organizations are not against improving the green cover of Valparai and improving forest management in a way that would not escalate the human-animal conflict.

Declare Pilibhit tiger reserve to save big cats

THURSDAY, 16 AUGUST 2012 09:18 MOUSHUMI BASU N NEW DELHI HITS: 42 After the tragic death of three tigers under Pilibhit Forest Division in the past three months, wildlife experts have come out strongly for the forest division to be declared a tiger reserve. The third tiger was found dead on Sunday. The reserved forest area is home to 36 tigers. The Centre had given its in-principle approval for the forest division to be declared a tiger reserve in 2008. In 2010, the State Government wrote to the Centre in detail. However, the Centre sent back the proposal to the State Government seeking clear delineation of core and buffer zones. Now the matter is pending with the State Government. Further, the areas flanking the forest are very vulnerable to man-tiger conflict. Surrounded by villages that have sugarcane fields, there are repeated instances of tigers straying into these areas. However, fresh hopes have been raised with Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan bringing up the issue of Pilibhit along with four other reserves, in Rajya Sabha recently. While the reason for the death of two tigers on May 24 and May 25 was confirmed as poisoning, the forensic report on cause of death of the third tiger is yet to be received. The body of the tiger,however, had no injury or bullet marks, raising suspicions of poisoning in this case too. Rupak Dey, Chief Wildlife Warden, said, “We are combing the villages and other adjoining areas thoroughly to track poaching gangs that could have led to the incident. We are also trying to find out if there has been any recent case of killing of cattle in the surrounding villages.” He admitted that the two previous killings of big cats were in retaliation to loss of livestock. In order to ensure a better tiger management in the present situation, he said, patrolling would be intensified. “There is little doubt that tigers in Pillibhit are vulnerable. The State Government must not delay the long-pending process of notifying Pilibhit as a tiger reserve,” said Prerna Singh Bindra, standing committee member, National Board For Wildlife. Under the Project Tiger umbrella, Pilibhit will get the advantage of more financial and technical support, along with more focused wildlife protection. Studies indicate a good tiger density in Pilibhit, which also serves as a crucial link between Dudhwa and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal. UP has barely eight per cent of its area under forest, and Pilibhit is among its finest and deserving of maximum protection. “This will also help mitigate and address the human-tiger conflict which is very acute in this area,” said tiger expert Dr Ulhas Karanth. Recently, a tiger had ventured out of Pilibhit forests reaching Central Institute of Subtropical Horticulture campus in Rahmankhera. It, however, did not attack any human during its 108-day stay in Rahmankhera near Lucknow and was sent back to Dudhwa tiger reserve. In 2011, there was yet another incident of tiger straying. It had killed 6 persons and was eventually sent to Kanpur Zoo. A straying tigress from Pilibhit had to be shot dead in 2009 following enormous local pressure after it killed five persons.

Govt to move SC to protect rights of tribals

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times New Delhi, August 15, 2012 The Ministry of Tribal Affairs will ask the Supreme Court to review its interim order on declaring core and buffer areas in 41 tiger reserves in India after reports of tribals and forest dwellers being harassed in the name of implementation of the court order. Seven states have notified core and buffer areas in tiger reserves since the Supreme Court, in July, asked them to create the distinction and report the action within three weeks. The court had also imposed a ban on tourism in core areas in the same order. However, before complying with the court order the state governments failed to take people living in forests into confidence as required under watershed Forest Rights Act (FRA). “Restrictions have been imposed on movement of forest dwellers,” said Tushar Dash, a forest rights activist after a national consultation on the issue was held this week in Delhi. “Boundaries are being erected without settling of the rights of people living inside tiger reserves in violation of FRA”. Tribal Affairs minister Kishore Chandre Deo told Hindustan Times that a decision was taken on Tuesday to plead in the case. “We will bring to the notice of the Supreme Court that certain processes are to be followed as mandated under different laws to declare critical wildlife habitats (core area). People cannot be moved out without settling their rights,” he said, after holding discussions with senior officials of his ministry. The Forest Rights Act clearly states that critical wildlife habitats cannot be notified without scientific process and settling the rights of the people living in the forests. The Wildlife Protection Act makes consultation with forest dwellers mandatory for declaring the habitats. In these seven states, none of the processes listed in different laws was followed. The forest department officials had apparently acted in haste after the Supreme Court said that a fine of Rs. 50,000 will be imposed on state forest secretaries, if they fail to comply with the interim order within three weeks. Ashish Kothari of NGO Kalpvariksh said such a time-line makes mockery of the due process that has to be carried out for identifying and notifying buffer areas to promote co-existence between the wildlife and humans. “It is impossible to notify buffer zones with due process in seven days as these states have done,” he said. Many forest right activists believe that the Supreme Court order is being used by the state forest departments to usurp the recognition of the rights of those living in the forests. What has not happened since January 2008 --- when FRA was implemented --- the forest departments want to do in three weeks under the grab of the court order. Deo’s ministry has recently notified simplified guidelines for implementation of FRA to ensure that poor tribals and forest dwellers are not harassed. Lakhs of claims of rights have been rejected because of improper interpretation of the guidelines. States where core and buffer zone notified in seven days Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand Where these states have failed? Critical wildlife habitats have to be notified on scientific lines and after consultation with locals under the Wildlife Protection Act Approval of the Gram Sabhas to notify the habitats as mandated under Forest Rights Act has not been done. Traditional forest rights of those living in tiger reserves have not been settled before issuing the notification, a requirement under FRA. Its adverse impact? Movement of tribals has got restricted Tribals not being allowed to collect non-timber minor forest produce from forests Tribals fearing forceful relocation

Poachers pose new threat to Bengal tiger cubs

By Anis Ahmed and Azad Majumder DHAKA | Wed Aug 15, 2012 8:58pm IST (Reuters) - Royal Bengal tigers have been under threat from habitat destruction, illegal trade for body parts, natural calamities and angry villagers, but their cubs are now facing a new danger -- poachers. Three frail tiger cubs lying in an iron cage in a Dhaka zoo are the first live cubs to be recovered from poachers, who had planned to smuggle the animals out of the country. "(Tigers) come out of the woods in search of food in the villages, and often get caught and killed," said a forest ranger in the Sundarbans mangrove forest in Bangladesh, who asked not to be identified. "Now, the poachers have expanded their illegal trade by catching and smuggling cubs that are easier to trap and safer to move away." There are an estimated 300 to 500 majestic Royal Bengal tigers in the 10,000 square km (6,213 miles) Sundarbans forest, which stretches across part of Bangladesh and India and has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The numbers of the striped cats, which usually weigh over 200 kg (440 pounds) when fully grown, have been falling steadily. Residents of a Dhaka high rise building found the squeaking and grunting cubs in June when the animals were trying to climb from the ground floor. Special security forces took the cubs to a private zoo, where keepers fed them with bottled milk and put them on display. But due to health problems and stress from the throngs of visitors, the cubs were taken to a specially designed home in Dhaka's Botanical Garden where they are being fed food imported from China. The recovery of the live cubs was a wake-up call for conservationists who had been unaware of illegal trade in tiger cubs. Adult tigers are prized for their skins and their body parts are used in traditional Asian medicine. "We have had reports of tigers being killed by poachers. But this was the first time we saw that they were captured alive," said Reaj Morshed, programme officer at the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB). Security forces arrested a man and his mother for collecting the cubs and keeping them until the animals could be smuggled out of the country. Each cub was priced at 2 million taka. Since the rescue the government has tightened laws for smuggling tiger cubs and imposed a seven-year sentence and a fine of 500,000 taka fine. Sundarbans forest guards will also be equipped with new guns and trained to curb poaching and smuggling. Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmad, the country representative for the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), believes the new law is a step in the right direction. "Previously we didn't have a stringent law to deal with this, but now I think with the law in force and increased awareness on the part of the people, protection will be easier," he said. But not everyone agrees. "This country had plenty of laws to govern the forests but they were never strictly enforced," said Mohammad Badiuzzaman, at a nearby village. "Mere talking of laws and launching of plans will do little to help save the forest and its inhabitants."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tiger tourism: Lobbies fight tooth and nail

Nitin Sethi, TNN | Aug 14, 2012, 01.53AM IST NEW DELHI: Should tourism be allowed a free run in forests that are breeding grounds of tigers? A curious case in the Supreme Court to restrict flourishing tourism in the core of tiger reserves has got many agitated. CMs and state forest ministers are writing to the Centre demanding tourism remain unfettered in their territories. The environment minister and wildlife officers in the Paryavaran Bhawan are inundated with calls. High-decibel tiger conservationists and resort owners — at times there is little distinction between the two — are engaged in hectic lobbying with their power buddies across party lines. Forest officials in states have turned unsure of whether tigers bring tourists to their forests or tourism protects the animal. Top lawyers are engaged by various 'interested' parties. Some other conservationists and tribal groups are holding meetings to discuss how to tackle the fallout of the apex court's final decision, which is likely soon. Ironically, amid this hubbub, tribals and poor farmers, who live in proximity to tiger, are caught in the legal cross fire, and are fast becoming collateral damage. It began with a petition in the SC on whether tourism should be allowed in the core of tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh. The court took up the issue in earnest forcing the Union government to file its recommendations that it was dragging its feet on for several years, unwilling to rein in the powerful tourism-combo. But, the court went a step ahead and also ordered that buffer areas - with thousands of farmers and other poor tribals, besides industry and other businesses — around core of tiger reserves be demarcated. Creating buffer areas gives forest department greater control over land, irrespective of whether they are used for agriculture or mining. The environment ministry took the middle path on tourism. It finally recognized the irony in allowing tour operators, touts, conservationists-turned-entrepreneurs and camera and gear-loaded tourists to walk into forests when poor tribals had been thrown out for conserving the big cat and its breeding grounds. It agreed that the people in vicinity of tiger reserves were making little out of the business where resort-owners can earn upward of Rs 40,000 a night at times against the guarantee of a rare glimpse of the elusive animal. Recommendations were made to weed out tourism from the core of tiger reserves (which are legally meant to be inviolate or free of people) over the next five years and the wildlife tourism business around the national parks and sanctuaries be taxed 10% of their revenue to provide some money to conservation and local tourism. The guidelines, now before the apex court, have got the tourism groups and the state governments (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasathan and Uttarakhand) up in arms and hectic lobbying is on. A motley conglomeration of conservationists and rights groups - Friends of Conservation - have warned that under the ruse of court-imposed deadline, state governments are violating the Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Rights Act to demarcate the buffers, overriding provisions of these laws which protect the rights of the poor in vicinity of the wildlife zones. Ironic, many point out, since the same state governments are preparing affidavits and writing letters to protect tourism in tiger reserves. Officials warn, albeit in hushed tones, that land around tiger reserves are quietly being hived off in benami transactions to bypass land-transfer rules. Farmers and tribals with little other option are selling their land than facing the brunt of forest-raaj.