2009 so far has been a very bad year for tigers in India. According to statistics collected from all over the country, there have been 66 tiger deaths from January 1 to August 16 and 72 till September. Out of these, 23 tigers have become victim to poaching, 43 deaths have been caused by territorial fights, old age, tiger-human conflict, accidents and diseases and the other 6 are unknown. These figures come from a nationwide survey by the Delhi based NGO, Wildlife Protection Society of India.
In the last few months the majority of tiger deaths have been recorded in Uttarakhand (North) and Karnataka (South). There was another incident near the Pataur area in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve where a tigress was found dead possibly poisoned meaning that the problem exists throughout the country and not only in the North as assumed earlier. The Pataur tigress had three young cubs, of which two have been found and rescued and the search for the third is on.
According to WPSI, in 2006 there were 1,411 tigers in the wild and since 2000, the country has lost 445 tigers out of which 72 deaths were recorded in 2009 itself which is the highest after 2001.
There is a huge difference in the figures of WPSI and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). The NTCA claim that there have been only 100 deaths since 2006 and 54 this year.
According to experts, poaching is not the only problem faced by tigers in India. A bigger problem is habitat disruption and also the hunting out of the prey species. According to K Ullas Karanth, a senior conservation scientist, since the early 1990’s the collapse of field protection and patrolling was the cause of the decline of the tiger population. He said it is a direct result of the mission drift of the forest department which has moved away from it’s core task of protection to eco-development which includes needless habitat modifications and other such distractions.
Along with the poaching, another issue of importance is hunting out of the prey species. Today, there are vast extents of forests in India where tigers are absent not because of direct poaching but because their prey species have been hunted out.
In a report by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in July this year, 7 tiger reserves including Panna (372 km North East from Bhopal) and Indravati (486 km South of Raipur) were on the verge of losing all their tigers. To this NTCA member-secretary Rajesh Gopal said that the tiger mortality has been high in 2009 and specific instructions have been issued to field directors to protect the endangered species.
But according to Belinda Wright, the executive director of WPSI, these instructions have not helped and some of the states are not serious about implementing these measures to protect the animal and it’s habitat.
A NTCA official on condition of anonymity said that to ensure the success of the expert groups that have been created and to get an independent view of the situation, all it’s members have been chosen from people not associated with the government, state or central.
These expert groups will submit their report in six months and according to environment conversationalist Ananda Banerjee, one of the critical terms of reference for these groups is the dwindling forests around the tiger reserves mostly because of human activity, making the poachers job even easier. K.H. Chaudhary, chairperson of an expert group from North East India said that they will look at all aspects including the concerns of the local people.
With the highest ever allocation of Rs. 660 crore for relocating 10,000 families and 200 crore for tiger conservation in the 11th five year plan (2007-11), we can hope that the current scenario changes as soon as possible.
Source: Articles from various Indian newspapers