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.

The Asian Age - - Special - SAN­JAY BOHRA

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

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