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Tiger, the most important asset of nature in peril

Saturday - January 26, 2019 9:35 pm , Category : WTN SPECIAL

WTN: Though India remains the world’s last significant sanctuary for tigers, the population of the big cats has dropped drastically. From more than 1,00,000 of the species roaming the jungles of the country in the 19th century, now their population is not more than 2500-3,000 by generous estimates, though the actual figures might even be lesser, thanks to rampant poaching and weak mechanisms to catch and punish  poachers. Project Tiger was launched about four decades ago, but the results are disappointing. 

Poaching has been a problem in India for long, but with the Chinese economic boom, the demand for tiger parts for use in traditional Chinese medicine has increased manifold. A large pelt can fetch over $ 10,000 there. A villager can earn as much in one night from poisoning and skinning a tiger as from farming in five years. The 37-yr-old showcase effort ‘project tiger’ is understaffed, underfunded and ill-planned and poorly implemented. Wildlife criminals are highly organized with a network starting from poachers through the middlemen and financers to the syndicate members with international linkage. The result is a systematic pushing of the tigers to the brink of extinction.

Manmohan Singh formed a Task Force under environmentalist Sunita Narain some 8-9 years back. The body recommended streamlining government agencies and establishing a wildlife crime bureau.  But ironically, the task force members only looked at the best parks and never went to the worst ones, where tigers are in greatest danger. At least 250 tigers are slaughtered by poachers every year. Of the 200 tigers that died in 1999-2005 period, no less than 125 were due to poaching.

It smacks of gross negligence and inefficiency of years, willingly done to wipe off the tiger, simply because there is huge money involved. There has been no specified anti-poaching drive or force built up to tackle poaching of tigers. The net increase in tiger population in 15 tiger reserves over 20 years has been hardly 25-30. Outside the reserves, the situation is worse. From 2,503 in 1984, their numbers plummeted to less than 1,700 by 2002-03. Till date tiger conservation is limited to the confines of the 28 reserves created under the wildlife protection act. But more than half of India’s tigers are found outside in the forests contagious with these reserves, where they share space with humans.  Between 1989 and 1992, around the Ranthambore national park, at least 18 tigers were killed by poachers while 60 guards were patrolling the forest. 

Many a times the poachers are hands-in-gloves with forest officials, whereas at other times, the staff are ill-equipped to counter the onslaught of organized gangs of poachers with their obsolete weapons pitched against sophisticated armory of the poachers. The Project Tiger Directorate issued guidelines to regulate tourism in forest areas like ceiling on the number of visitors to a park at a particular time. However, there was no system in the directorate to ensure the states complied with the directives. The wildlife conservation strategy 2002 of MoEF envisaged the revenue earned from tourism should be used to augment available resources for conservation.  However, no development fund was created. 

The Subramanian Committee and the National Wildlife Action Plan stressed setting up special courts for fast disposal of cases related to forest offences. However, most states have no such court. Project Tiger Directorate instructed chief wildlife wardens that maximum 25-30 sq km should be brought under each patrolling camp and a chowki in the tiger reserves. At the national level, 28 reserves were covered by 1,070 patrolling camps, which indicate coverage of about 35 sq km under each camp. In several reserves it was over 50-60 sq km per team. Clearly, there is inadequate coverage and coupled with it, primitive arms and poor training to the forest staff, allow no way to stop professional international poaching that is regularly taking toll of the big cats. Man can save the tiger but no one is going to save him. The way man has destroyed wildlife, his action will not be forgiven by nature!-Window To News