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Millennium Post

Together for the tiger

Given the present tiger conservation scenario, with the rising tiger death tolls, the government body is obviously worried with its system: its inadequacies and lapses towards tiger protection. The result is the latest directives by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) stating that unless proven all tiger deaths will be considered as cases of poaching. Perhaps, the NTCA believes that with this directive coming in, the officials will be more responsible during investigations.

In 2011, on an average, four tigers died in a month: this year, the average toll to date is five tiger deaths a month. This is a cause for concern. Especially when recent reports have revealed that there are bulk orders being placed for 25 tiger skins and parts for which the poaching gangs have even been given an advance of Rs 40 lakhs. This news was specific for the poaching gangs operating in central India, but it is also possible that other states too have received such orders. At one time, southern Indian forests were considered a safe haven for tigers, but here too 100 animal traps and snares have been recovered in recent times.

Besides, in states such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, some parts of Andhra Pradesh and the north east, which have good forests that are suitable for tigers, there is also the problem of anti government outfits like naxalites, who use these forests as hideouts making it difficult to adapt them as tiger habitats. But, considering India has 16 per cent of the world tiger population, there is a pressing need to keep exploring and developing newer areas adjoining forests, to convert them as tiger habitats in future. Man-animal conflict is an obvious situation and each year we loose animals in these conflicts. For instance, when the big cats kill the cattle from villages adjoining the forest areas, it often leads to revenge killing where villagers poison the predators. Strict control can be imposed on these sorts of known fracases by implementing immediate compensations and prompt counselling to the villagers. A politically unstable area may be difficult to manage, but it is possible to resolve issues like revenge killing with enhanced and energetic approach.

As for the issue of poaching, it has to be addressed immediately. However, unfortunately, the intelligence wings of the forest departments across the country are weak. Whenever a tiger dies, the department increases tiger tracking and area patrolling, but it is ineffective towards anti-poaching. In-field tracking alone will not save tigers, the intelligence wing has to be equipped to curb poaching incidences before it occurs.

In theory, there exists a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), but they do not have adequate staff and budget for their operations. As per the last reports, they have less than Rs 4 crores for the entire nation. The total staff strength of WCCB is 70-odd employees, but some of them are from Zoological Survey of India, who are into species identification not intelligence gathering.

Some NGOs and independent societies are working towards anti-poaching and intelligence gathering in the country. One such good example is Tiger Watch, an NGO working in Rajasthan’s Ranthambhore national park, which managed to control the poaching incidences that occurred in the area ever since the tiger trouble of 2005 in Rajasthan. They identified suspected poachers and started many small projects addressing the healthcare and education of their families, as well as identified alternative livelihoods so that they could be brought into mainstream. Once their confidence was gained, these suspected poachers were used as informers for gathering data about any possible poaching activities. The modus operandi of Tiger Watch was a success. If it is studied further and replicated, things could improve drastically for tigers. Though Tiger Watch worked locally at grassroots level, it has a nation and international wide network as well as good working relationship with the Rajasthan police department. Because of the police intervention, Ranthambhore became secure for tigers to a larger extent as traders at many levels were nabbed. However, the Rajasthan police after arresting some big time poachers, soon lost interest in its save tiger operation. It became evident that controlling poaching is a never-ending task and a dedicated agency is required to go after these massive networks in order to completely uproot them.
Agencies that work to stop crime, such as the police and central bureau of investigation, are overburdened with general crime. Perhaps, it might help if the forest department can do the primary work and take assistance from other agencies for raids and court procedures. This sort of team effort alone can bring about a change. The forest department has to strengthen itself and improve its own intelligence gathering by identifying suspicious people and keeping their crime records. It will be difficult to save tigers with tiger tracking and monitoring alone.

As per the last census, India has 1,706 tigers distributed in 40-odd tiger reserves. Ideal situation will be 100 tiger in each reserve making it 4,000 tigers in the country. To make forest officials more conscientious, the NTCA may have declared that every tiger death will be considered poaching. But this again is a short-term solution. Tiger conservation in India needs the concerted efforts of various agencies working in tandem.

Divya Khandal, 29, is a freelance wildlife writer, amateur photographer and social entrepreneur living in Ranthambhore.
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