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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Two direct tiger sightings in Melghat during census

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Feb 21, 2012, 06.27AM IST NAGPUR: Tigers are always elusive in Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR), fondly called 'Kipling Country'. But two direct sightings during the nine-day Phase IV tiger estimation exercise has thrilled field staff and officials. This may be perhaps the first time such sightings have been recorded during the census. The exercise on distance sampling to know density of ungulates through line transects concluded on Sunday. It started on February 10 and was conducted in over 6,250 beats in protected as well as non-protected areas in state, including tiger-bearing patches in Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM). Now, exercise to know 'proportions of animals captured' with the help of camera traps will start in March and will continue for 45-60 days. Melghat, known for its mystifying landscape with high hills and deep valleys, revealed clinching evidence of carnivores like pugmarks, scrapes and scent marks, scats etc. Field staff sighted a tiger on February 13 while walking on the transect line in Somthana range of Wan sanctuary (part of Melghat) and another tiger was seen near Semadoh on February 16. One direct tiger sighting has also been recorded in FDCM area of Chandrapur. VK Sinha, chief conservator (CCF) & field director of Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), says there could be more such records from TATR once data is compiled. The analysis of data will be done by researchers at the regional level. "Based on this data, camera traps will be installed," he added. AK Mishra, CCF & field director of MTR, was overjoyed by the direct tiger sightings. He too admits that due to complex landscape and dense forest cover, sightings are rare. However, he said that tigers have occupied territories in all the three villages relocated a year ago. "The exercise was done in 275 beats. With two pairs of cameras in each beat, we'll need 450 cameras from March 1. It will help us find the individual tiger numbers of the reserve," Mishra said. The MTR documentation at different levels and data collected shows presence of around 50 tigers. However, in 2010, the monitoring of tigers, co-predators and prey as per the instructions of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India ( WII), Dehradun, revealed that MTR supports population of 39 tigers in 1,800 sq km. In MTR's 230 sq km Dhargad range, comprising Gurgipati, Koktu, Kelpani, Bori, Boripati and Gullarghat, huge evidence of carnivore and herbivore presence was recorded. These dense forest patches are said to have half of MTR's tiger population. Regular sightings of bisons, chitals, sambars, and sloth bears were reported around transect lines here. Field director AK Mishra, Akot deputy conservator of forests (DyCF) Vijay Godbole and ACF Pramod Panchabhai closely monitored the drive by walking on transect lines. Godbole says it is important to note that more animals in an area may not result in enhanced detection probability, since the latter is governed by terrain features, cover, visibility etc. The 2010 tiger assessment involved three phases. This will be for the first time fourth phase will be added to the three phases. Across 41 tiger reserves, the 2010 assessment estimated 1,706 tigers (range between 1,571 and 1,875). The Way Ahead Camera traps at density of one pair per 4-5 sq km Minimum trap nights of a 1,000 per 100 sq km (i.e. 25 pairs of cameras in 100 sq km for 40 days) Minimum area coverage of 400 sq km Closure period of 40 to 60 days Entire reserve needs to be sampled In case of larger reserves like MTR, the area will be covered by dividing into blocks for camera trapping Two transects of 2-km length for each beat to be walked three times during each season. This protocol should be done for two seasons (summer and winter)

'Toothless' regional tiger cell meets today

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Feb 21, 2012, 06.11AM IST NAGPUR: With time running out for tigers and wildlife in particular due to poaching and the shrinking habitat, the regional tiger cell will meet on Tuesday after a gap of nine months to address various issues. PK Mahajan, deputy conservator of forests (DyCF) for Nagpur division and member-secretary of the cell, said this is the 12th meeting and will be held at 4.30 pm at Van Sabhagruha, Seminary Hills. The meet will be chaired by special IGP Rajinder Singh. It will be attended by divisional forest officers (DFOs), MSEDCL officials and superintendents of police from Gondia, Nagpur, Gadchiroli, Wardha, Chandrapur and Bhandara districts. Member-NGOs including Prafulla Bhamburkar of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), Nitin Desai of Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), Harshawardhan Dhanwatey of Tiger Research and Conservation Trust (TRACT) and Kundan Hate have also been invited. The regional tiger cell meeting should be held every three months but it's not been happening. The cell was formed in 2000. The last meeting was held on April 11, 2011. Mahajan said the meeting could not be called early as the officials concerned were busy with recruitment of forest guards and later with the winter session of the state legislature followed by the zilla parishad, municipal council and corporation elections. "We will approve the minutes of the last meeting and discuss strategy on wildlife protection and better coordination," Mahajan added. Meanwhile, conservationists have expressed grave concern over lack of action on a host of decisions taken by the cell in the past. They want the cell to take issues seriously. "Such meets should not end up as mere tea sessions," a member felt. The cell has failed to act on many decisions taken for wildlife protection including curbing and nailing culprits in illegal fishing in Pench, forming a special committee to look into skin seizure cases, preventive action against habitual offenders, operations against Baheliyas and checking 'musafir registers' with police patils. In the last meeting it was decided that police station diaries will have a special column for wildlife crime and police personnel will take part in the tiger estimation exercise, but the decision remains only on paper. "As the cell meetings are not held at regular intervals, every time a new Special IGP chairs the meet. This leads to a fresh discussion on issues," said one of the members. They added that many wild animals continue to be poached for meat and body parts. The meat is openly sold in weekly markets in rural area but officials' action is not forthcoming. "These illegal activities only go to show that due to lack of coordination between the forest department, the police and NGOs, the results are nil. These cells have become clawless," moaned conservationists. Decisions Only On Paper * FDCM, which has a large forest area under its jurisdiction, not invited to meetings * Decision on expert group of police and forest officials in vulnerable Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Gondia, Wardha, Amravati, Nagpur, Bhandara, Thane and Mumbai not taken * Decision on secret funds hanging by fire * No special cell for handling wildlife crime cases. Joint forest and MSEDCL teams too not formed * Several tiger poaching cases in Chandrapur not reopened as promised by the then Spl IGP SB Sawarkar * Police station diaries with special columns for wildlife crime pending. Cops too not part of the census exercise as decided

Tiger trackers get their due

- Relief for cash-strapped Palamau park A.S.R.P. MUKESH Palamau Tiger Reserve Ranchi, Feb. 20: The weekend has proved lucky for striking trackers at Palamau Tiger Reserve currently in a no-pay-no-work mode, with the forest headquarters releasing partial funds in a bid to grant wages pending for seven months and the state deciding to gift cycles to each. The 150 trackers at PTR had been on strike since February 9 to protest against the non-payment of their wages — Rs 125 a day for each — for all these months, which The Telegraph highlighted on Saturday in its report on the funds tangle that crippled the reserve. In an overnight development, yesterday, the forest headquarters at Doranda released partial funds of around Rs 31 lakh to pay the wages. However, the core issue — why the state doesn’t bother to send the Centre a letter of utilisation of funds, which is why the tiger reserve is cash-strapped for years on end — has been left hanging. The cheque, addressed to Palamau Tiger Reserve divisional forest officer Premjit Anand, could not be encashed today as banks were closed on Shivratri. Officials said that emergency funds were managed from other sources. Chief conservator of forests (wildlife) A.K. Gupta confirmed the development. “Yes, funds have been released. It is a little over Rs 31 lakh. The cheque has been given to the divisional forest officer (Anand) and payments will take place once the bank reopens on Tuesday,” he said. The strike is, therefore, expected to end in a couple of days. Once it does, trackers — who walk more than 10km a day — can also expect cycles, thanks to the first-of-its-kind largesse of the state forest department, which earlier only doled out biscuits and canvas shoes. This maiden experiment to increase the mobility of trackers and tiger protection force members has already started rolling with Saturday’s launch of a tendering process for branded cycle companies. “We have decided to give them cycles with the twin objectives of boosting their morale and increasing their mobility,” Gupta told The Telegraph. The cycles will be a more-than-welcome bonus in the coming summer months, giving the trackers the motivation to cover the reserve more thoroughly, even alternating between treks and pedals. GPS devices and CCTV cameras will complement fieldwork for better monitoring. However, what needs to be done is to get cracking on the bigger picture — ensuring that the Centre’s funds are not locked by state’s bureaucratic apathy — for smooth operations of the tiger abode that faces countless problems, animal and human.

The Ranthambhore story

G. ANANTHAKRISHNAN One of India's iconic tiger reserves is emblematic of its efforts to save the big cat Preserving India's wild tigers has become a popular cause today. Most people might never see a wild tiger, but they fully support measures to save it. They are aware that, in spite of several challenges, tigers do persist and need help. Poaching, mining, indifferent forest bureaucracies, highways in sanctuaries, and unrestrained consumerism — all pose a threat. It is undoubtedly a gloomy picture. And this sense of despair once again pervades Valmik Thapar's writing, relieved only by an occasional glimmer of hope. The Ranthambhore National Park, the tiger haven near Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan, is among Thapar's favourite haunts. The very name evokes images of vast forested lands, the ruins of a massive fort, and lakes with emerald vegetation attracting the big cats and their prey. The author's tryst with tigers here began in his twenties, and grew into a magnificent obsession over three-and-a-half decades. This comprehensive book, the 21st by the crusading conservationist-author, is essentially made up of two parts. The first is a lavish spread of images, many of them by Fateh Singh Rathore, a passionate forester, which makes it worth collecting. The second is a critique of tiger conservation in the three decades since hunting was outlawed, major forest laws were introduced, and the protection of the environment became a policy imperative. Enlightening Even if the reader has no particular interest in Thapar's anecdote-laced analysis of what is wrong with India's forest and conservation policies, he will find the book quite absorbing and enlightening, thanks to the pictures that are supremely delightful and offer a lot of insight into the ecology, biology, behaviour, prey preferences, and habitat of the tiger. The Government of India has spent enormous money since the launch of Project Tiger (which later became the National Tiger Conservation Authority). Yet, reading through the chapters of this book, one is left with the feeling that New Delhi was not really serious about the goal. Environmental governance under the supervision of Indira Gandhi yielded splendid gains and helped wildlife recover. But after her departure from the scene, it has been a systematic reversal, with Nature being looked upon only as a resource to be managed and extracted from. This is the economics that, in Thapar's view, grossly tilts the scales against the survival of the tiger. Two things stand out in his analysis: policy confusion about protected areas that has resulted in mounting pressures on habitat and the generally hostile attitude of the forest bureaucracy to independent research, which prevents the growth of scholarship on conservation. Disaster project Thapar describes his interaction with several Ministers for Environment and, mostly, they do not cover themselves in glory, with the exception of Jairam Ramesh. They appear vague, vain or inept, while dealing with forest protection. The Environment Ministry comes across as a “funny place”, and the World Bank's $ 70 million eco-development project under the Global Environment Facility, a disaster for forests. One Environment Minister, Thapar says, surprised him by declaring that he had been presented a fresh tiger skin during an election meeting in his constituency. Things were not good for the other folk working to save tigers. Independent researchers such as Raghu Chundawat, who worked with the author, faced unrelenting pressure to establish his bona fide intent and had to endure smear campaigns for the simple reason that they recorded the decline of tigers — as in Panna. The shocking story of Sariska's local extinction and clumsy attempts at re-introduction of tigers is told with a lot of personal insight. These are not new stories, of course, but form part of the long journey that Thapar has undertaken in Ranthambhore and elsewhere. The book affirms the superiority of scientific research and gives credit to scientist Ullas Karanth and his camera-trap-based capture-recapture sampling technique to arrive at credible tiger counts. The reader is also treated to hilarious anecdotes, including one on the discredited pugmark method, which produced exaggerated tiger population figures. In one instance, a forest guard claimed that he had made a trace of a pugmark from the wet foot of a tiger on a rock, before it dried up. On policy, if there is one issue for which a doughty fighter like the author is yet to come up with a solution, that is the perceived conflict between electoral politics and conservation imperatives. Thus, the Forest Rights Act in its present form — empowering tribals and traditional forest dwellers — is seen as divisive and harmful to conservation, and politicians focussed solely on votes as men of poor mettle. He calls it the “ignorant buzzword.” That debate is set to go on. Ultimately, it is the tigers that elevate the book. They are everywhere in glorious colour, hunting in the lakes of Ranthambhore, walking, frolicking, snarling, leaping, sparring, mating or simply relaxing. Valmik Thapar and Fateh Singh Rathore spent many dreamy days in this idyll, watching a fascinating creature in its home. The book is a tribute as much to Fateh, who was Valmik's mentor from the beginning, as to the big cats. Keywords: Ranthambhore National Park, Valmik Thapar, Fateh Singh Rathore, Ullas Karanth, Project Tiger, National Tiger Conservation Authority, Forest Rights Act

Predator, prey base has increased at Dudhwa Tiger Reserve: WTI

PTI | Feb 20, 2012, 04.45PM IST LAKHIMPUR KHERI (UP): Apprehensions about depletion of prey base in the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve (DTR), generated after reports of tigers hunting rhinos surfaced, were dispelled by a recent survey conducted in three areas of the wildlife sanctuary. The survey was conducted in Dudhwa National Park (DNP), Kishunpur Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS) and Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary (KGWS) by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). Based on scat (droppings) analysis of the big cats and their prey species including spotted deer, wild boars, swamp deer, hog deer, barking deer, langoors, among others, it was concluded that prey and predators have increased. "WTI survey has highlighted the fact that numbers of both prey as well as predators have increased which can be attributed to adept habitat management and wildlife protection," Field director and chief conservator of forest Parasada said. The CCF said the density of tigers has increased, as reported by the survey, hence this would be reflected in the numbers as well. During camera trapping under Phase three in DTR, the density of tigers in Dudhwa National Park came around 7.88 per km, he said. As per the report, the number of tigers comes to around 72 in DNP, 32 in KWS and 23 in Kishunpur. Total number of tigers in DTR tallies at around 127. According to the WTI report, DNP has the highest density of big cats and prey species, followed by Kishunpur and Katarniaghat sanctuaries. The WTI teams scanned 149.2 sq km area of DNP including Sathiyana, Dudhwa, South Sonaripur and Belrayan from December 2011 and January 2012 and found a total of 80 scats of big cats, which tallied at 53%. Similarly, in 91.77 sq km area of Nishangada and Katarniaghat areas of KWS, the ratio of scat collection of big cats tallied around 32 per cent while in 201.81 sq km area of Mailani and Kishunpur areas in KWS, it was around 26.5%. The WTI survey corroborates the report of the last tiger census which described density of the big cat in Dudhwa as 7.9 per km as compared to 4.9 of 2007.

Pug marks confirm tiger in Saranda

B Sridhar, TNN | Feb 21, 2012, 07.28AM IST JAMSHEDPUR: Speculation over the presence of the big cat in the Saranda forest was put to rest,when the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, confirmed the presence of the tiger here recently. The divisional forest officer,K K Tiwary, however, clarified that the institute has not suggested the specific number of tigers. In its preliminary report, the institute confirmed the pug marks that were sent by the forest officials for examination last year. "The preliminary report has confirmed the presence of a tiger in the Gua area of the forest cover but for further confirmation we need to have visual evidence," said Tiwary. In November last year, the forest department traced pug marks beside the carcass of a bison suggesting an attack by a tiger. Thereafter, the pug marks were collected using tracing paper and plaster of Paris and were sent to the Betla Project Tiger office for examination. "Betla officials sent the pug marks to Dehradun, which examined the evidences and confirmed the pug marks," said Tiwary. Since then, the department has been on the lookout for evidence. "The possibility of tigers straying into the West Singhbhum area from Simplipal cannot be ruled out. So we need visual evidence before we confirm their resident status," said Tiwary. He also said since November last there has been no report of animal casualty involving an attack by a tiger or tigress. Saranda, spread over 850 sq km, has about 1,000 cheetals, 300 sambars and 25 bisons, according to the last census. "Till a few decades ago, there were tigers in Saranda but over the years their number has declined," said a forest conservator, adding, "Saranda was home to wild boars, barking deer and antelope which suggest their predator's (tiger) presence nearby."