Govt negligence rings alarm bells for Sariska
Poachers, inactive for a while, have struck Sariska Tiger Reserve once again. Tiger ST- 11 was killed, while another, ST- 5, has been missing for more than a month.
Sariska Tiger Reserve ( STR), located in Rajasthan’s Alwar district and surrounded by Aravalli hills, is back in news again. This time the news is bad. Poachers, who have been inactive for a while, have struck once again. Tiger ST- 11 has been killed, while another, ST- 5, is missing for more than a month is suspected to have been killed. For a state whose mainstay is tourism, including wildlife tourism, this situation comes as not only sad, but an alarming one. State forest minister Gajendra Singh Khimsar admitted that it was a suspected case of poaching.
In 2005, wildlife lovers were shocked when poachers had wiped out the entire tiger population at the reserve. The seriousness of the issue could be gauged from the fact that then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a two- day meeting of forest officials and experts in Ranthambhore to discuss ways to protect wildlife, especially tigers. A task force was set up, which submitted its recommendations to the Centre.
The state government too constituted a task force, which also submitted a report. On the experts’ recommendation, an initiative to shift tigers in Sariska from Ranthambhore was taken up. Eight tigers were translocated between 2008 and 2012, of whom one was poisoned in 2010. It was enough to ring alarm bells, but no lessons seems to have been learnt. R. N. Mehrotra, former principal chief conservator of forests, blames the forest minister for the alarming situation at STR. “When the forest minister camped here for 20 days in January this year, the forest officials told him about every problem at the reserve,” he alleged. “STR is passing through a bad phase due to the short shrift that the government is giving the reserve,” he added. The empowerment committee, headed by former Rajya Sabha MP V. P. Singh, had given more than 20 suggestions for effective monitoring of STR. Despite several reminders to the government by forest officials, nothing has been done. The panel had recommended that there should be three security guards in one beat ( beat is an area allocated to forest guards and patrolled on foot).
At present, in STR, there are 102 beats and only 110 guards are working. Due to shortage of staff, no search operation can be launched to check use of snares by farmers/ poachers. Proper night patrolling is still not on in the STR. “The death of Tiger ST- 11 2 km away from the STR headquarters has raised a question mark on the efficacy of the forest officials' tracking system. Illegal activities such as laying of traps for wild animals are prevalent in STR,” said a member of National Tiger Conservation Authority ( NTCA). There are as many as 11 villages inside the STR, which spread over 800 km. When the tiger relocation programme was planned, human presence inside the core area of STR was considered a major threat to the tigers. It was decided that villages inside the core area would be shifted out, as locals have very low tolerance for wild animals. However, for the past four years not a single village has been shifted. It may be noted in the core area of STR, grazing and human disturbances are not allowed, while buffer zones ( outside the core area) are those that help regulate commercialisation of land such as farming. But a field report by the NTCA noted a number of commercial activities inside the “Critical Tiger Habitat” ( inviolate space only for tigers).
“It was seen that new commercial establishments be it hotels and shops had come up very recently in contravention of the Wildlife ( Protection) Act, 1972,” the report read.
An STR official said, “There is no dedicated staff to carry out combing operations, prevent poaching attempts and chase the poachers through labyrinthine jungle paths.” Unfortunately, the guards at the reserve still lack basic firearms and rely on batons to take on poachers and villagers, he added.
Five tigers are still without radio collars. “A radio collar remains operational only for three years, thereafter, it needs replacement. Tigress ST- 9’ s radio collar was lost some time ago and is yet to be replaced,” the officials said.
In the absence of proper electronic surveillance, the officials have to rely on the age- old methods of tracking tigers with the help of their pugmarks.
Tiger ST- 5, missing from STR for more than a month, may have been killed by poachers, says forest minister G. S. Khimsar
Missing tiger ST- 5