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Monday, October 15, 2012

Poaching biggest threat to tiger relocation at Sariska

Anindo Dey, TNN | Oct 15, 2012, 03.49AM IST File photo of a male tiger being airlifted to be relocated to Sariska. JAIPUR: The ambitious but controversial tiger relocation programme at Sariska Tiger Reserve is set to enter the next phase with the introduction of two female and a male tiger in the park before the end of winter. This will take the tiger count to 10 at Sariska. The forest department is gung ho about the plan, more so after the sighting of the first cubs recently. Everybody, though, doesn't share forest department's enthusiasm regarding the project. The debate on if Sariska is safe for tigers is on with conservationists raising concern over poaching still being a big threat. Arguments by conservationists find credence in the report of the state empowered committee on forests and wildlife management (SEC), constituted in February 2005, that stated that all the tigers in the reserve were poached. The results of a similar experiment at the Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh were an eye-opener. Following a tiger relocation programme in 2009, the reserve today boasts of 12 cubs and five adults. "Even if numbers don't form a scale for comparison, it definitely indicates that there is something wrong with the habitat. Sariska with the vast number of villagers living inside the reserve has a much higher disturbance level," says conservation biologist Dharmendra Khandal of Tiger Watch. "The hype and the support that the Sariska tiger relocation programme received was not channeled. The department should have taken more interest in preparing the habitat than just concentrating on relocating tigers," he says. Khandal cites the incident of leopard poaching, a couple of months ago in Sariska, to validate his concerns. "Moreover, till sometime back they were building anicuts inside the forest with heavy machinery in a gross violation of the Wildlife Protection Act and the Supreme Court directives. There has been little effort to link the community staying inside the reserve area with the conservation programme. Thousands of pilgrims still travel through the forest to reach Pandupole and the problem of heavy traffic on the highway near the reserve is yet to be addressed," he says. No study has been undertaken to understand the bio-diversity of the forest, he adds. The SEC report too while raising concerns on the biotic pressure from the people and cattle living in the villages situated inside the STR and on the periphery had recommended reduction of these existing disturbances and a time bound relocation of villages. The report said: "In Sariska, all the reasons responsible for the disappearance of tigers in toto zero in on one single factor which is that large number of villages exist inside the reserve. No successful rehabilitation of these villages has ever taken place. Therefore, poachers could take shelter here and kill tigers" 'Next phase of project is better planned' After the death of a tiger and an instance of delayed litter, lessons were finally learnt by the initiators of the relocation programme. It was a wake-up call for the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the Wildlife Institute of India and the state forest department to review the situation. The authorities claimed that the Phase-II of the programme will see a marked change in its approach. The attempt to introduce fresh blood from outside the state is the first attempt in this direction. The SEC (state empowered committee) report urged identification of tigers from identical/similar habitats and even mentioned Kanha tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh for a possible animal exchange. According to A C Chaubey, chief wildlife warden, Rajasthan, this time only those tigers will be relocated which have a proven history of motherhood, a clear shift from its earlier stance of relocating only virgin tigresses. The move is aimed at warding off chances of a failed motherhood, something that did the rounds when the tigresses had failed to deliver. "The tigress that we are narrowing down to in the Ranthambhore reserve is presently nursing its cubs. But soon they would become adults and leave. That is when we plan to relocate her," officials said. "The once busy Sariska-Thanagazi road (state highway 13) doesn't witness heavy traffic now. Even the Tehla-Sariska (SH 29A) road has only a couple of state roadways buses plying on it now," he said. Both the moves find a mention in the SEC report that asked for "an urgent need to close these roads, at the earliest." Movement has been restricted on the route leading to Pandupole with forest authorities allowing only vehicles with local registration numbers and that too on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Recently, a group of foreign tourists seeking to enter the park on the pretext of visiting the temple was denied entry. Plans are afoot to rope in the community living in and around the park to ensure better conservation of the tigers.

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