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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Poaching fears over tiger relocation at Sariska

TNN | Oct 16, 2012, 03.02AM IST 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. Is Sariska safe for tigers? Arguments of 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" Four years after the relocation programme, 25 of the 28 villages continue to exist in the reserve area. The conservationists' fears were found to be true when the first relocated tiger ST1 was poisoned to death by the villagers in November 2010.

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