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Friday, October 12, 2012

Supreme Court ban on wildlife tourism in reserves is endangering the magnificent creature

Oct 12, 2012, 12.00AM IST Former US president Bill Clinton once quipped: "There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it, and those who have not seen the Taj and love it.'' For well over three decades now, i have been an inveterate wanderer in the wild and untamed lands of India. And i can safely report that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have seen a tiger in the forest and love it, and those who have not seen a tiger in the forest and love it still. Unfortunately, this magnificent creature is now stranded at a perilous cross-road - and its fate lies in the hands of us humans. Not a reassuring prospect, to depend on humans when they cannot even guarantee the survival of their own race! A case in point is the recent rumblings in the Supreme Court, where a coterie of so-called wildlife experts have opined that keeping tourists away from national parks and sanctuaries is the best way to ensure the tigers' safety. But this would bring about the tigers' doom sooner rather than later. Way back in May 1985 as a tourist, i came across a dead tiger in the Dhaulkhand range of Uttarakhand's Rajaji National Park. The poor animal lay before me, obviously poisoned. At first, the forest authorities went into denial mode. But a series of correspondences which i had with the top authorities of the day ensured that that the matter was properly investigated. A few weeks later, i was duly informed that it indeed was a case of poaching. I shudder to think what would have happened if, at that time, the area was closed to tourists. In many cases of tiger poaching, it is they who first press the alarm-bell. Another example: two years ago, the famous Jhurjhura tigress of Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh was knocked down dead by a vehicle inside the park. Now, she was a celebrity tigress; a darling of wildlife photographers who would troop down to Bandhavgarh from all over the world to capture her with their cameras. The sudden death of the Jhurjhura tigress, proud mother of three newborn cubs, caused a furore which continues to this day. If the tourists and guides at Bandhavgarh had not raised that ruckus over the tigress' death, who would have? Of course, one must grant that C K Patil, then field-director of Bandhavgarh, left no stone unturned to nab the culprits. But very few forest officers are of his calibre. When Sariska and Panna National Parks lost their tigers, the entire forest staff from top to bottom was found napping. It was the media and the tourists who alerted the country to these twin tragedies. It is safe to assume that the tigers in Sariska and Panna were not wiped out in a single day. Even a well-coordinated poaching operation would take weeks, if not months, to achieve the objective, given the elusive nature of a tiger. What was National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the all-powerful central body, doing during this crucial period? Tens of thousands of families today depend on the tiger for their livelihood. Be it a low-paid guide or those working in resorts and hotels around a national park, their kitchen fires are burning because of the tiger. If tourism is banned in tiger reserves, many of these people may well vent their anger on the tiger in sheer frustration. How prepared is the government machinery to take on this challenge? Is it any coincidence that tigers have emerged stronger in those places that attract large numbers of tourists? Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Corbett, Ranthambore, Tadoba; the evidence is irrefutable. In the words of formidable tiger-man Billi Arjan Singh, once a tiger moves out of the protected area, it becomes a forgotten tiger''. It then becomes an easy mark for any passing gun. True, untrammeled tourism in tiger reserves is also a problem - and at times, a grave one. A tiger needs a great deal of breathing space; being a territorial animal, it requires large tracts of undisturbed land. Therefore, a prudent tourism policy - one where picnickers can be separated from wildlife enthusiasts - would be a welcome first step. Jim Corbett hit the nail on the head perfectly when he remarked over half a century ago: "The tiger is a large hearted gentleman with boundless courage and when he is exterminated - as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support - India will be poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.'' A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the days of Colonel Corbett. Thanks to Indira Gandhi's initiative which led to the setting up of Project Tiger in the early seventies, we did manage to pull the tiger back from the brink of certain extinction. But a bigger battle is before us now. It will indeed be an unparalleled tragedy if the tiger breathes his last in a forgotten, silent corner of a forest, where a 'No Entry' board greets tourists. (The writer is a builder and wildlife enthusiast)

Forest staff shun tiger sanctuary

TNN | Oct 12, 2012, 12.16AM IST BHUBANESWAR: Tiger conservation in the Sunabeda sanctuary of Nuapada district took a back seat during the wildlife week with forest officials fearing to venture into the reserve area because of Maoist presence. Around three range officers, 10 foresters and 27 forest guards engaged in wildlife conservation, have stopped entering the sanctuary zone since May 23, 2009, when the ultras ransacked the range office at Cherechua. The forest officials don't have the exact statistics of big cat population. "The last tiger census was carried out in 2004, when the big cat population was 32 and there were 36 leopards. For the last eight years, there was no census. In 2006, attempts were made to conduct census but it failed," said Nuapada divisional forest officer (wildlife) Kapil Prasad Das. In 2010, all employees of forest department, who were deployed at Sunabeda tiger reserve in Nuapada district boycotted tiger census demanding adequate security. Sources said the killing of Katingpani forester Sangram Keshari Swain on April 28 near the sanctuary has made the officials panicky. "It is true our officers are fearful. But we are taking alternative measures and spreading awareness among people as well as the officials. Observation of wildlife week is one such step," the DFO said. Earlier, Maoists had threatened forest officials with dire consequences if concrete roads are constructed inside the Sunabeda sanctuary. Road work was being undertaken under Centre's Integrated Action Plan. A forester, who refused to be named, said they had been demanding their security ever since the Maoist menace began. "We are under tremendous pressure. If we venture into the sanctuary, we will meet the same fate as the Katingpani forester.," he said. Their fears are not unfounded. A month after May 2009 incident Maoists destroyed the beat house at Soseng. In November the same year, the extremists killed anti-poaching watchman Kirish Rout and former ward member of Sunabeda village Chandan Singh Barge.

Large-scale awareness marks wildlife week near 4 tiger reserves

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Oct 11, 2012, 09.54PM IST NAGPUR: Even as a lot of noise was made in cities while celebrating wildlife week, the tiger conservation body Satpuda Foundation (SF) concentrated on tribal villages on the fringes of four tiger reserves in the Central Indian region. Several events were organised for a week around Pench tiger reserves on Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh side besides Tadoba-Andhari in Chandrapur and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh. The SF had organised a host of events in eight schools in villages around TATR. Two nature trails for students, three conservation rallies, an essay-writing competition, two drawing competitions, nature games and plantation programme for tribal kids marked the wildlife week around TATR. ""Our basic purpose was to educate these tribals on why the forests and tigers need to be protected,"" said Bandu Kumre, field officer of the SF. Bandu, a former guide with Tadoba, took students for a walk through the jungle adjoining the village in which he helped them identify various species of local flora and fauna. He explained importance of nature and wildlife conservation. At a similar rally at Adegaon, school kids walked through their village forest raising slogans like 'Jal hai to jungle hai, jungle hai to jal hai' and 'Tiger hai to hum hai, hum hai to jungle hai'. An essay-writing contest for zilla parishad school students was also held at Katwal. At Kondegaon, drawing contest was organised. Similarly, the SF team held a nature trail and conservation rally at Khutwanda on the outskirts of Tadoba. Various events were also held in Sitarampeth. In Pench tiger reserve, volunteers organised activities in nearly 13 villages. Here, 7 nature trails for students of village schools, 9 conservation rallies, 5 essay-writing competitions, 9 drawing competitions, face-painting programme and 4 rangoli contests were held. Conservation officer Anoop Awasthi and field assistants Bandu Uikey and Dilip Lanjewar spoke about starting a nursery school in one of the villages. Two film shows on wildlife and nature conservation were conducted apart from guest lectures, quiz etc. The week-long programmes started with a conservation rally at Sawara in which 90 students participated. Similar rallies were organised at Kadbikheda, Zinzeriya and Ghatpendari, Pipariya and Salai, Khapa, Fulzari, Kolitmara, Ghoti and Aamajhari. Near Priyardarshini-Pench reserve, SF organised activities in 10 villages. As a special activity, SF helped four schools set up nurseries. ""We gave 100 polythene bags to each school, along with seeds of heta, kaner and neem. The nurseries were set up at Tuyepani, Khamrith, Telia, and Aamajhari,"" Awasthi said.

Chouhan joins satyagrahis at Agra, makes right noises

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times Agra/Bhopal, October 11, 2012 Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan joined the crowd of over 45,000 foot marchers along with his wife in Agra on Wednesday to express his solidarity with their demand for land to landless and shelter for homeless. According to an official spokesperson in Bhopal, Chouhan announced in Agra that patta (ownership right) of land on which a poor person is residing will be given to him in Madhya Pradesh. He urged the central government to enact a land reforms act soon. Over 45,000 landless and homeless people from across 26 states have undertaken a silent foot march (Jan Satyagrh) from Gwalior under the banner of Ekta Parishad. They would cover a distance of about 340 kilometers during 27-day march to Delhi. On reaching Agra today, MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan joined the march and promised to withdraw cases against tribals and assured them to provide land of their habitat on lease. Besides, he also declared to order probe against forest officials who damaged the belongings of tribals, who moved for march from MP. On delay in joining the Jan Satyagrah, he said that he was out of country and after his return, he joined the march as soon as possible. He further said the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh should think on some important issues including a national land reform policy, ensuring cultivable land for landless people and right to shelter for the homeless. Besides, he urged the PM to do something in the interest of the poor and needy by directing the ministry to look into their issues and play a constructive role in resolving them. He also hoped that there would be a positive declaration at Agra on Thursday. Chouhan further said that there was a lot of stress on saving tigers but nobody seems to be thinking about those living in forests, if all would save only tiger, who would fight for tribals. Chouhan said that the issues relating to poor should be at the core of politics. A special debate was required on the issues concerning the common man. CM informed the gathering that pattas of land had been given to 100076 tribals in Madhya Pradesh. The process of giving pattas would continue in future also until every eligivle tribal got the same, he added. Swami Agnivesh also joined the march and said that Central government was reducing the status of tribals into 'bandhua mazdoor' (bonded labour) by not providing them land. Students of Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH) also joined the march. Agra Mayor Indrajeet Balmiki and MP Ramashankar Katheria welcomed the marchers on their arrival in the city of Taj. Sources claimed that the Union Minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh indicated at a possible breakthrough at the meeting with Jan Satyagraha delegation and the march might be called off as early as Thursday if a formula was woked out to the satisfaction of foot marchers.

Sariska set to get three more tigers

Anindo Dey, TNN Oct 11, 2012, 06.13AM IST Sariska tiger translocation project|Panna Tiger Reserve|NTCA JAIPUR: With the Sariska tiger translocation project bearing fruit in the form of two cubs, the stage is set for Sariska to get three more tigers. In fact, the second phase of the translocation will see the forest department trying to introduce fresh blood into the 866 sq km forest. "Plans have been finalized for the shifting of three big cats to Sariska. One of the tigress will be from Ranthambore and two more (one male and one female) will be relocated from outside the state. It could either be from Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra and we are talking to both the states," says V S Singh, additional chief secretary, environment and forest, government of Rajasthan. Ads by Google Hotels in Pune Best Budget 5 Star Enjoy the inaugral offer now Luxury Home Offer Few Days Left, Book Flats & Win 5 Lacs of Gold + Save 2.7 Lacs! The optimism of the forest department in taking the experiment forward stems from the recent sighting of not just one but two cubs last month, nearly four years after the first translocation of male tiger ST1 was done in Sariska. That was on a rainy June morning in 2008. But the joy was shortlived. In the backdrop of numerous controversies on the experiment that began gaining ground, the tigers failed to bring in a litter despite numerous occasion when they were seen mating. This at a time when the Panna tiger reserve, that aped the Sariska experiment, was bursting with cubs. The big jolt came one November morning in 2010 when ST1 was poisoned by villagers. The forests department then relocated a male tiger that had strayed away into Bharatpur from the Ranthambore tiger reserve, taking the total count of big cats once again to five — two males and three females. "We have identified the tigress that will be brought from Ranthambore. Currently the tigress is with her cubs but soon the cubs will become sub-adults and go their way. That is when we plan to bring her into Sariska. In fact, the National Tiger Conservation Authority ( NTCA) has already given an in-principle nod for it," added V S Singh, additional chief secretary, environment and forest, government of Rajasthan. On the tiger to be brought from outside, A C Chaubey, chief wildlife warden, Rajasthan, revealed, "There was a meeting last month in Delhi with officials of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA )and Wildlife Institute of India (WII). Both the bodies were apprised of the plan. At least one tigress will be brought from Madhya Pradesh. But there will be a study done by WII to see if the tigers are compatible before they are actually brought in." However, cynics already see the move as a confused step. "Initially the forest department had expressed opinions of wanting to keep the Ranthambore breed of tigers pure. Why the sudden change in plans? Moreover, just two cubs may be too early to call the experiment a success. But it is not just numbers... what about making the habitat safer for tigers. Just last month there was an incident of a leopard being poached in Sariska. Added to that there has been little effort in relocating more villages or even curbing traffic on the roads that skirt the reserve. The forest department should first initiate these then take the experiment forward," conservationists felt.