India

New Standard Operating Procedure for Maharashtra’s tiger reserves

The chief wildlife warden of Maharashtra has issued advisories to the state’s four tiger reserves -Sahyadri Tiger Reserve in Kolhapur, Tadoba-Andhari in Chandrapur, Pench in Nagpur and Melghat in Amravati – to follow the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) recently released by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), framed to deal with emergencies arising because of tigers straying into human-dominated landscapes.

[pullquote]”Under no circumstances, a tiger should be eliminated (by invoking the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972) if it is not habituated to causing human death.”[/pullquote]

Among other things, the SOP strictly prohibits gunning down a tiger or leopard. It also says that the district authorities need to ensure law and order by imposing section 144 of the CrPc to restrain agitated locals from surrounding the spot where the animal was seen. The guidelines assume significance for Pune too, as the city has witnessed cases of leopards straying into human habitations off late, the most recent being on January 25 in the Dehu Road cantonment limits.

The SOP says that “under no circumstances, a tiger should be eliminated (by invoking the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972) if it is not habituated to causing human death”.

Forest officials in Pune said that the new norms would be applicable to Pune as well. “Almost all the guidelines and procedures mentioned in SOP can be used while trapping a leopard in case it strays into human habitats,” a senior forest official said.

An NTCA official told TOI that the SOP amalgamates all the earlier guidelines and brings them under a single point of reference. “There were guidelines in this regard but they were scattered. Hence, officials had difficulty in referring to them and seemed unaware of important rules. Also, the SOP makes it clear that shooting a tiger or leopard is the last resort, which will have to be corroborated with evidence. If a tiger or a leopard is shot during the event of it having strayed into a human habitat, the same will have to be documented. This means that the authorities concerned will have to prove that the animal was gunned down in extreme conditions, after having exhausted all other options,” the official said.

He added that this advisory existed earlier, but many were oblivious to it.

[pullquote align=”right”]In an area which is historically prone to such cases, detailed research should be carried out in order to ascertain the reasons for the recurring tiger emergencies.[/pullquote]

State chief wildlife warden S W H Naqvi said the SOP has been sent to all the tiger reserves in Maharashtra. “The SOP suggests field actions to deal with strayed wild carnivores (tiger/ leopard). It suggests setting up camera traps near the kill site to confirm the identity of the animal. In addition, it lists what should be done on the spot, what should be carried along, among other things. It thus provides the basic minimum steps which are required to be taken at the field level to deal with such cases,” he said.

Under the SOP, a committee has to be constituted for technical guidance and monitoring on a day-to-day basis after a big cat strays into a human-dominated habitat. It also suggests that the tiger and its source area should be identified by comparing camera trap photographs with those in the National Repository of Camera Trap Photographs of Tigers or the reserve level photo databases.

[pullquote]The 22-page document also says that if continuous trapping efforts fail, chemical immobilisation of the animal should be carried out by an expert team, including a veterinarian.[/pullquote]

It says that if it is an area which is historically prone to such cases, detailed research should be carried out in order to ascertain the reasons for the recurring tiger emergencies. It further states that in case of confirmed livestock depredation, human injury, fatal encounters or frequent straying of tigers near human settlements, authorities should set up automatic closure traps.

Officials said the imposition of section 144 of the CrPc existed earlier as an advisory. The SOP spells it out clearly so that the authorities concerned become aware of its existence. “It is also necessary that police and local administration be involved at an early stage of the straying incidents. Effective coordination with them is critical to control mobs, which, as has been seen in several instances, worsen the situation and lead to avoidable fatalities or tragedies,” the SOP says.

The 22-page document also says that if continuous trapping efforts fail, chemical immobilisation of the animal should be carried out by an expert team, including a veterinarian. It adds that if the tranquilised tiger is found to be healthy and young, it should be released after radio collaring into a suitable habitat with adequate prey base, away from human settlements, after notifying the NTCA.

A copy of the SOP can be downloaded from here. [392kB, PDF File]

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[alert type=”notice”]Original Story: Times of India, Photo: cknara | Flickr[/alert]