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Monday, April 23, 2012

July date for Indo-Bangla joint tiger census

TNN | Apr 23, 2012, 12.58AM IST KOLKATA: Finally, there will be a joint survey across 10,200 square kilometres of Sunderbans, spread across Bangladesh and India, this July to determine the exact number of tigers on the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The numbers, given by the Bangladeshi forest department and its Indian counterparts till date, are disputed on the ground that big cats frequently cross over the Indo-Bangla border. Every time, Sundarbans authority in India or that of Bangladesh comes up with their respective tiger census figures, they are disputed on the ground of tigers' frequent crossing over the political Indo-Bangla border. Bangladesh and India have signed a protocol to prevent poaching and smuggling of the tigers and their body parts from their sanctuaries. According to the protocol, the two countries will undertake joint scientific research, launch projects to promote understanding and knowledge of Royal Bengal tigers, develop information systems, share research, and exchange personnel for training and education. "There will be an attempt to conduct the tiger census simultaneously in Sunderbans on either side of the border using a common methodology. If necessary, Wildlife Institute of India ( WII) will help the Bangladesh Sunderbans officials with technical expertise for conducting the census," said sources. According to the last tiger census in 2003, there are 440 tigers in Bangladesh. On the other hand, a census in 2006 had claimed that Indian Sunderbans had 270 tigers, which was disputed by wildlife experts. The latest tiger census in India, conducted in 2010, pegged the big cat numbers in Sunderbans between 60 and 90. But the cross-border movement has always put question mark on the claims. According to the protocol, two countries will start patrolling of the waterways that crisscross the mangrove forests on their respective sides to prevent poaching of tigers. The wildlife monitoring is extremely important to the management to ascertain how the species are responding to the current management practices. Based on monitoring results, the necessary changes are made in the management practices to make those more effective. "The tiger estimation has traditionally been done in Sunderbans by using pugmark method, where the fresh left hind leg pug mark impression is collected from the field and analysed," said a Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve officer. The method was field-friendly but due to some drawbacks, Project Tiger developed a new methodology - Status of Tigers, Co-predators and Prey. Later, camera trapping, DNA tests were included to ascertain the range of tiger population in Indian Sunderbans. All these, forest department officers said, began during the tenure of Jairam Ramesh as Union environment and forest minister. Ramesh had suggested that India and Bangladesh should join hands to protect the Sunderbans from environmental degradation by forming Indo-Bangladesh Sunderbans Eco-System Forum. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh headed to Dhaka, he formalized Ramesh's forum through a specific Indo-Bangladesh Bilateral Environmental Treaty for the Sunderbans. The treaty was to facilitate implementation of the programmes under the forum and mandate inclusive and coordinated reform between the two nations at state, district and grass roots levels. This, according to an official, will help tackle the problems of sensitive ecosystems as a whole rather than in the separate and piecemeal form, currently the norm in both countries. The joint relocation and emergency evacuation programme was considered for sudden climate disasters such as cyclones or flooding. Both nations can use their strong grass roots institutions to ensure policies are practically implemented. Micro-credit programmes like micro-loans for livelihoods and micro-insurance for environmental disasters are also being worked out. Several proposals are being thought for joint and simultaneous execution by both India and Bangladesh. There is no dearth of funds. Last year, the Centre had allocated Rs 300 crore, from the Rs 1,156-crore Integrated Coastal Zone Management project for West Bengal and most of it for Indian Sunderbans. The funds were for prevention of erosion of the islands, building of storm shelters, promotion of ecotourism and livelihood improvement. In addition, a Rs 450 crore central grant was announced for strengthening embankments at critical areas in the Indian Sunderbans. Bangladesh has similar allocations - Rs 700 crore - for its Sunderbans.

Tribal activist fails to impress Melghat villagers

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Apr 23, 2012, 03.59AM IST NAGPUR: Melghat tribals on Friday failed to get carried away by a section of tribal activists from Pune against relocation of villages inside the Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Amravati. Last year, three villages - Amona, Barukheda and Nagartas - from the Wan wildlife sanctuary and this year, Dhargad (barring a few houses) - were relocated from MTR. In February, TOI had reported how villagers were better off post-resettlement. Pune-based Kusum Karnik, who works for tribal welfare and runs an NGO called Shaswat in Manchar near Bhimashankar, was in Kasod near Akot on Friday to meet villagers who were relocated from Amona in Wan. She was accompanied by some activists whom she introduced as villagers from the Bhimashankar sanctuary in Pune. Karnik raised the issue of water and bad roads in Kasod. She also asked people whether they were happy and why they opted for relocation. Villagers did not like it as it was like rubbing salt into their wounds. "The water problem has already been solved. Earlier, villagers used to walk three km to fetch water but now there are bore wells and wells in the village. Roads are being made under EGS," said honorary district wildlife warden of Akola Devendra Telkar. According to Telkar, people told Karnik that there was no point in staying in the tiger reserve as there were no education and better healthcare facilities. To this, Karnik said tribals don't need much education and health facilities. Talking to TOI, Karnik said that tribals have been living in the forests since ages. On education, she said that ashramshalas can solve the problem. She accused the officials of forceful relocation. "Tribals were never told about the third option of co-existence," she added. It implies that tribals should live in the tiger reserve only. Karnik didn't come out with any alternative package. As present, resettlement of Dhargad is on and NGOs from Akola and Amravati are busy helping tribals to resettle smoothly. NGO representatives Uday Waze, Amol Sawant, Nilesh Dehankar and Anant Gawande were also present during Karnik's visit. "Karnik's statement has shocked us. Tribals themselves are demanding resettlement as they know that they don't have a future in the reserve. Besides, they are getting a package of Rs 10 lakh per family," Waze said. After seeing that resettlement was not an issue in Kasod, Karnik left for Somthana, a village inside Wan which is in the process of being relocated. She was accompanied by Akot deputy conservator of forests VM Godbole and others. In Somthana, Karnik told villagers that she visited resettled village Kasod and saw their problems. Why do they want to rehabilitate? Villagers told her that Nagartas and Barukheda were remotely situated and were isolated from the outside world. "We too are not safe as we see tigers in the day time. Besides, wild animals damage our crops," they said. To this Karnik said all villages together should have been opposed rehabilitation like she did in Bhimashankar. "This is a conspiracy of the forest department to divide villagers. Amona, Nagartas and Barukheda were forced to leave. Now it's Somthana's turn," she said. When pointed out that villagers were keen to move out, Karnik said they were saying so because forest officials were present during the meeting. She gave examples of Churni, Pastalai and Vairat villages in MTR where villgers are co-existing. However, most families of these villages have already been relocated. In Somthana, some local tribals asked Karnik how can they get facilities like health, education etc. They also wanted to know how landless people get land inside in the forest and how can they save this land from wildlife? To this, Karnik reiterated that tribals don't need much education and health facilities. Karnik's response irked some women and they ended up having a heated argument with her. After the Somthana meeting, Karnik was asked by the officials to visit Dhargad to clear her doubts, but she left as the villagers favoured relocation. Vishal Bansod, honorary wildlife warden of Amravati, said NGOs should come to Melghat to help tribals in resettlement work and not misguide them.

E-eye to protect tigers at Corbett National Park

Published: Monday, Apr 23, 2012, 9:08 IST | Updated: Monday, Apr 23, 2012, 1:15 IST By Mayank Aggarwal | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA Imagine sitting in a cosy room but keeping an eye on hundreds of kilometers of jungle. Battling acute manpower shortage, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has launched a pilot project for 24X7 surveillance of the Corbett National Park using high-tech infrared and thermal imaging cameras. The project ‘E-eye’ (electronic eye), whose estimated cost is around Rs3.5crore, was started around six months ago when ten high-tech cameras having infrared and thermal imaging capabilities were installed on 10-20 metres high towers. They were set up on Corbett’s sensitive southern boundary bordering UP from where maximum poaching cases have been reported in the past. Of around 800 square kilometers of Crobett area, the cameras are covering around 350 square kilometers area to mainly check poaching. The cameras detect anything weighing more than 20 kilograms and send immediate alert to the control room set up at the Corbett. They have powerful zoom capabilities, can pan and tilt and works even in adverse weather conditions. “Nothing can match human patrolling but we have got fantastic results from this project in the last six months as infiltration incidents has come down drastically. We have successfully checked movement of villagers and on one occasion a tractor involved in illegal mining in the park was also caught,” NTCA’s deputy inspector general SP Yadav told DNA even as he controlled cameras using his computer in Delhi sitting nearly 300 kilometers away from the place. As per Yadav, shortage of field staff at tiger reserves is the primary reason for this project and also that cameras work 24x7x365 is an unmatchable advantage. As per NTCA’s data, there is a shortage of over 1,500 officials including forest ranger officers, forest guards, forest range officers and others. NTCA would soon set up a control room in Delhi as well but at present the only control room is at the Corbett itself. “Whenever an alert about any unauthorized vehicle or infiltrators is received, a rapid response team rushes to the spot to check it. E-eye has created fear amongst locals because of which they have stopped entering the protected zone. This is all what we wanted,” Yadav said. “It is for the first time that such a thing has been done. Nowhere in world is such system used in a national park. We will monitor it for one year before we take a final call for doing it at other reserves across the country,” he added. Yadav also explained that with this system’s help, human-elephant conflict can also be avoided as locals can easily be alerted in advance. Besides NTCA, Pune’s Binomial Solutions too has worked on E-eye.

Missing forest labourer found killed by tiger

TNN | Apr 22, 2012, 01.10AM IST NAGPUR: The mystery of the missing forest worker from Bor was solved as remains of his body were found within the radius of 500 metres of a water hole near Chinchkhori. Sitaram Wadwe, a permanent forest labourer (van majoor) posted in Pendhri beat of Bor wildlife sanctuary was attacked and eaten by a tigress. Wadwe had gone missing on Friday. As soon as news about Wadwe going missing spread, a group of 35 villagers and forest officials led by Bor assistant conservator of forests (ACF) Uttam Sawant started a combing operation at 6pm. The operation continued up to midnight, but till then, nothing but faint evidences of a tiger attack like scarf, slipper and some hair of the victim were found. The search operation began again on Saturday morning around 7am. Around 10.30am, Wadwe's skull was found. A Ashraf, chief conservator of forests (CCF) and field director, Pench Tiger Reserve, led the search after 9am. He said, "We also found Wadwe's pants in which the keys to his vehicle were found." Nearly the whole body was eaten by the tiger as only a few body parts of the deceased could be found by the search party. His remains have been sent to Selu primary health centre for post mortem. "His family will be receiving Rs four lakh as compensation and an additional Rs 50,000 from Pench Conservation Foundation. His wife will be considered for employment in forest department on compassionate grounds," Ashraf said. Wadwe, along with two other van majoors, had gone to fill a water hole at 10am on Friday near Chinchkhori. As he was on his bike, he asked his colleagues to proceed, saying he would follow them after filling the water hole and cut the tall grass near the spot. A tigress and her cubs were being constantly sighted near the water hole. Despite knowing this, Wadwe went into the area alone. It is possibly not an incident of a tiger attacking humans. "Wadwe was in a crouching position and the attack happened from behind. It is quite possible that the tiger mistook him for a prey and attacked him," Ashraf said.

Forest officials let stray tiger identify its own safari and live there

Published: Friday, Apr 20, 2012, 9:45 IST By Deepak Gidwani | Place: Lucknow | Agency: DNA The sly manoeuvres of a big cat have got the better of trained foresters in Uttar Pradesh. A group of over 20 forest officials and workers have been tracking a stray tiger for more than three months now. Tired of their futile search, they are now coming around to finalising a proposal to let the big cat be where it is, and instead of trying to cage it, develop a tiger safari around it. Forest officials say the tiger, a healthy male of four years, has strayed from its habitat in Lakhimpur Kheri, more than 200 km from Lucknow. It was first sighted in the first week of January in Hardoi, about 100 km from here. The tiger later settled down in the 400-acre farm of the Central Subtropical Horticulture Institute of the Union agriculture ministry at Rahmankheda,about 15 km from Lucknow. Since then, over three months have passed but despite the big cat being sighted a number of times, it has defied all the foresters’ tricks to cage it. Apart from calling in Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) experts, the UP forest department also engaged the services of several darting experts, including one from Orissa, but all their efforts remained futile. The tiger has already made short work of almost a dozen calves and goats tied as bait. Cages put up at several places in the area have also failed to lure it. Some days ago, the foresters had dug a 12-feet deep pit, covered it and tied a bait in a bid to catch the tiger. The cunning cat did come and even fell into the pit but before the forest officials could reach the spot, it surprisingly managed to escape. With their desperation and the costs of the operation mounting by the day, the forest department officials have now prepared a report proposing to develop a tiger safari around the elusive cat. The proposal includes the bringing in of two tigresses which could help in natural breeding. The tiger safari would cost about Rs10 crore and would be only the second one in the country apart from the only one in Bhopal. A senior forest department official says the preliminary report for developing the safari notes that the tiger has made the expansive farm of the horticulture institute its home as it has all the ingredients needed for its natural habitat. The farm has a water body (a ‘nullah’) running through it which has water supply all year round. It has dense forest cover and enough natural prey for the tiger in the form of blue bulls. “Developing a tiger safari there is the best solution in the given circumstances,” says tiger expert and former UP wildlife warden Ram Lakhan Singh. He points out that the tiger has never engaged in any conflict with human beings which, he says, is a very positive sign. “This way, UP will boast of its own tiger safari and the area can be developed as a tourist centre,” he adds.

Three arrested with tiger skins in Chhattisgarh

IANS Apr 20, 2012, 05.29PM IST Wildlife Protection Act|tiger skin|Raipur|Chhattisgarh RAIPUR: Three men were arrested with tiger skins while they were trying to sell these in Chhattisgarh, police said here Friday. According to police, the three men were arrested under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Thursday evening by forest department officials in Kanker district's Bhanupratapur area, some 240 km south from state capital Raipur. According to the forest department, two tiger skins were seized from them and were valued at over Rs.500,000 in international market. "The three were arrested based on specific intelligence inputs. They could be members of an inter-state poaching gang. The police are investigating," Arun Kumar Pandey, forest conservator in Kanker, told IANS over phone. He said that since January this year 17 people have been arrested in Kanker district for anti-poaching activities.