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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.