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Dangerous Endangerment

Updated: February 27, 2010 1:34 pm

Tigers are an endangered species in india. In fact the population is dwindling very fast and if no concrete effort is made to end the poaching then the chances of the tiger population surviving the next decade are very bleak.

            In 1972, the government formed Project Tiger to protect the tiger forests and banned shooting any of India’s remaining 1,800 tigers. Funds flowed in from all over the world and by 1989 the number of tigers in India had climbed to 4,300. But in 1999, their number came down at around 3,500 and, once again, conservationists were worried. Shooting for recreation is a distant memory from the British Raj, but there are now other, less easily controlled threats to India’s big cats. Population growth and rural development such as the construction of mammoth dams in some areas are destroying the natural habitats of tigers. Although trafficking in wildlife products is banned in India, poaching of tigers for their skin, bones and body parts used in Chinese medicine has exacerbated the problem. While Project Tiger has succeeded in protecting about 25 of India’s forest reserves, it is among the unprotected areas of forest that are most at risk.

            Another factor responsible for the fall in India’s tiger population is the rise of insurgency in some parts of the country such as the northeast and Andhra Pradesh in the south. In Andhra Pradesh, Ranjitsinh says, left-wing extremists called Naxalites have provoked villagers to kill tigers because the government was slow to pay villagers for cattle killed by tigers.

            What makes scenario gloomier is the fact that almost 80 per cent of the tiger reserves across the country don’t even have a tiger conservation

plan, according to sources. In spite of the attention showered on tigers they continue to be in trouble and till now 95 tigers were killed in 2009. Now it is clear why the tiger is still in trouble.

            Under the Wildlife Protection Act, it is mandatory for all states which have tigers to have a tiger conservation plan, a steering committee headed by the Chief Minister, and a buffer zones around each reserve to save the tigers that stray out of forest. But 80 per cent of tiger reserves across India do not have a tiger conservation plan which is a vital tool for protecting the tiger. Less than 50 per cent of tiger states have a steering committee or a tiger conservation foundation and in the last three years not one state has utilised funds fully released by Centre.

            This is the reason that the current population of wild Bengal tigers in the Indian subcontinent is estimated to be between 1,300 and 1,500. Of these, 1,411 are found in the wild in India while about 280 are found in Bangladesh, mostly in the Sunderbans. As of June 2009, tigers are found in 37 tiger reserves spread across 17 Indian states. An area of special interest lies in North India where 11 protected areas are found in the Terai regions, comprising dry forest foothills and dune valleys at the base of the Himalayans.

            But over the past century tiger numbers have fallen drastically. Of eight sub-species alive in 1900, three are now extinct and we have lost over 90 per cent of wild tigers. Habitat losses and the extremely large-scale incidences of poaching are serious threats to species survival. Poachers kill tigers not only for their pelts, but also for body parts used to make various traditional East Asian medicines. Other factors contributing to their loss are urbanisation and revenge killing. Farmers blame tigers for killing cattle and shoot them. Poachers also kill tigers for their bones and teeth to make medicines that are alleged to impart the tiger’s strength to the human who consumes the medicines.

            The fall in number of tigers in the census of 2007 was at last taken seriously by the Government of India. The Finance Minister Mr P Chidambaram allotted a grant of Rs 50 crore for the Protection of Tigers following pressure from international conservationists to save the last tigers of the country. While presenting the budget of 2008-09 Chidambaram told: “The number 1,411 should ring the alarm bells. The tiger is under grave threat.” Further Chidambaram said that the National Tiger Conservation Authority would be granted Rs 50 crore to “raise, arm and deploy” a Tiger Protection Force.

            The Project Tiger plans to create eight new Tiger Reserves across the country at a cost of $153 million. An estimated 2,00,000 people from across 250 villages will be relocated as the human interference in tiger territories and encroachment are considered equally dangerous as poaching.

            Here it is worth mentioning that the UP government plans to set up a new tiger reserve in Pilibhit. The new reserve would be spread over an area of approximately 1,000 sq km. It is expected to ease the pressure on the Dudhwa forest reserve that has witnessed a massive depletion of forest cover in recent years, adding to the man-animal conflict in the region. The new tiger reserve would run through Pilibhit, Kishenpur sanctuary and Khutar range of Shahjahanpur. The Dudhwa forest reserve includes Katarniaghat and Kakraha range of Bahraich division. Pilibhit, Khutar and Kakraha are reserved forest areas that will be converted into protected areas for the reserves with a slight alteration in the boundaries. The outline for the reserve, as identified by the Critical Tiger Habitat Committee, was sent to the Central government in January last year. The reserve was sanctioned in last year’s budget and forest department has already completed the exercise of delineating its stretch and extent. Now it is to be seen as to when this plan translates into reality.

            Pilibhit is one of the few well forested districts in UP. According to an estimate of year 2004, Pilibhit district has over 800 sq km forests, constituting roughly 23 per cent of the district’s total area. Forests in Pilibhit have at least 36 tigers and a good predator base for their survival. Pilibhit forests are part of Terai forests, which together with grasslands constitute habitat for over 127 animal species, 556 bird species and 2,100 types of flowering plants.

They are also home to around six million people who depend on them for their livelihood. With Corbett Tiger Reserve going to Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh always wanted to develop Pilibhit forests area as home for the striped cats. A proposal created in 2005 to make a home for the endangered cats in Pilibhit forests was sent to the government of India in April 2008, on the basis of the potential to have special type of ecosystem with vast open spaces and sufficient feed for the elegant predators. The reserve has a core area of 1089 km (proposed) and buffer area of 627 km (proposed). The northern edge of the reserve lies along the Indo-Nepal border while the southern boundary is marked by the river Sharada and Khakra. It is home to a large number of rare and endangered species, which include tiger, leopard, swamp deer, hispid hare, Bengal floricans, etc.

            This new reserve would run through Pilibhit, Kishenpur sanctuary and Khutar range of Shahjahanpur, the existing one would have Dudhwa, Katarniaghat and Kakraha range of Bahraich division. Pilibhit, Khutar and Kakraha are reserved forest areas which will be converted into protected areas for the reserves. Actually, Dudhwa tigers are distributed in one major and three smaller populations. Major population is constituted by Dudhwa reserve which includes Dudhwa National Park, Kishenpur and Katarniaghat wildlife sanctuaries and forests of Pilibhit, north and south Kheri. The smaller tiger populations are present in Bijnor forests in west, and Suhelwa and Sohagibarwa wildlife sanctuaries in east.

            According to a study by Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dudhwa-Pilibhit population has high conservation value since it represents the only tiger population having the ecological and behavioural adaptations of the tiger unique to the Terai region. But this rosy scenario may turn dismal, given the fact that the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve project was granted in the month of September 2008, when Government of India approved the area for its inhabitants in the Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh. But due to the state government’s indifference towards the project, the work on the proceedings of the implementation of the project is moving at a snail’s pace. What is more, even after an amendment in the Wildlife (Protection) Act that makes formal notification of tiger reserves mandatory, sources reveal that UP is yet to notify its tiger reserves.

            A 2006 Amendment in the Wildlife (Protection) Act said tiger reserves should be notified with a demarcation of a critical (core) area, to serve as an inviolate tiger habitat, and a buffer area which would help in creating contiguous tiger habitats. Yet, Uttar Pradesh has not made any formal area demarcations yet. Making a formal notification would mean the tiger reserve would get increased funding for patrolling and development under various heads from the Central National Tiger Conservation Authority. In Dudhwa and Pilibhit, tigers have been reeling under man-animal conflict and poaching. In Dudhwa, tigers have been getting killed on a railway line that runs through the park.

            “Despite all our pressures, UP has not notified the core areas of the tiger reserves. While verbal commitments have been made, no formal notification has been made,” says Rajesh Gopal, member secretary, NTCA. In UP especial intervention is required, as UP has always had a good tiger population. Furthermore, Pilibhit is an extremely vulnerable area to poaching.

By Shariq Parvez from Pilibhit

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