Monday, March 16, 2009

Vanishing Tigers

The tiger is one of the most charismatic and evocative species on the earth—it is also one of the most threatened. Only 6,000 or so remain in the wild, most in isolated pockets spread across increasingly fragmented forests, stretching from India to south-eastern China and from the Russian far east to Sumatra, Indonesia. Across its range, this magnificent animal is being persecuted. Today, tigers are being poisoned, shot, trapped and snarned to meet the demands of illegal wildlife trade, especially in the Indian forests.
Dwindling Population
Project Tiger claims that there are 3,600 tigers left in India, but many ecologists disagree. The pugmark method of counting, employed by the authorities, is also outdated environmentalists believe that current crisis is a result of mission drift that began after the decline of protection in the 1990s, which created huge gaps for poachers to enter tiger reserves.

Tigers continue to die across India. Poisoned, being killed in road accidents or getting mortally wounded in alleged territorial fights—since Jan. 1, 2008, at least six more tigers have been found dead in several wildlife sanctuaries ranging from Katermiaghat in Uttar Pradesh to Wynad in Kerala.

During the same period, wildlife officials have also seized two tiger skins and three bone pieces of the endangered animal. This reaffirms that poachers and wildlife traders continue to be active.

Census Report
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has released the latest Tiger Census Report, “State of tiger, copredators and prey in India”. The report stated that India’s tiger population declined by more than half in the last five years and only 1,411 big cats are left in the country. There were an estimated 3,500 tigers in the last major survey in 2002. Currently, tigers are spotted largely in the forest areas of 17 States in the country, Madhya Pradesh topping the list with 300 tigers. But there are no more big cats outside the tiger reserves.

There has been an overall decrease in the tiger population except in Tamil Nadu where the numbers have gone up substantially from 60 in 2001-02 to 76. The counting could not be carried out in the Indravati Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh and Palamu Tiger Reserve in Jharkhand due to inaccessibility because of naxalite problem while estimation is on in the massive Sunderbans area in West Bengal.

However, based on available data in Palamu Tiger Reserve, the Census report indicates a low density of tiger in the area ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 per 100 sq km.

GIS Technology
Adopting a 17.43 per cent coefficient of variation in the figures estimated with the latest GIS technology instead of the pugmark methodology, the report, however, stated that the status of its co-predators, prey and habitat has not adversely changed in the reserves and protected area; the decline has been in the outside areas.

The assessment has shown that the tiger has suffered due to direct poaching, loss of quality habitat and its prey. The State-wise analysis has shown that Andhra Pradesh has 95 tigers (as against 192 in 2001-02), Chhattisgarh 26 (227), Madhya Pradesh 300 (710), Maharashtra 103 (238), Orissa 45 (173), Rajasthan 32 (58). Sariska has no tigers left.

In the Western Ghats, Karnataka has 290 (401), Kerala 46 (71) and Tamil Nadu 76 (60).

In the North East Hills and Brahma­putra Plains, Assam has only 70 tigers against 354 in the previous Census.

Arunachal Pradesh has 14 tigers against 61, Mizoram only 6 (28) and North West Bengal 10 against 349 earlier, though figures from the Sunderbans regions are yet to be compiled.

Reasons for Deaths
The reasons for tiger deaths in the country are beginning to show. Members of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the apex conservation body chaired by the Prime Minister, has written to him, saying decisions approved by him, including the one on forming a sub-committee for the tiger, are not being followed and even minutes of meetings are not being properly recorded. The Board has 15 independent members, who say that a sub-committee formed to look into the issue of tiger conservation has not actually been formed.

However, members pointed out that this was recorded as Central assistance is being provided for creation of a Tiger Protection Force comprising ex-Army personnel and people from local communities complementing the efforts of the field staff. Some of the decisions taken included formation of a sub-committee to look into tiger conservation, marine protected areas and the impact of the Forest Rights Act. Trying to get the Forest Rights Act implemented in a time-bound manner, the Tribal Affairs Ministry has asked all State Government to complete the preliminary work for identification of beneficiaries.

Need of the Hour
The Tiger Conservation Authority must tackle armed insurgency in the Eastern Ghats and parts of Central India, widespread unsustainable resource extraction, and alarming levels of poaching of tigers and their prey. Resources are not a constraint and, among other things, there is international support to save the last of the major wild tiger populations found anywhere.

People’s participation and sensible and regulated tourism are some of the other measures that are being made. There are also calls for greater political will and there is the old insistence on serious efforts to stop poaching by increased employment for forest guards and through stricter punitive measures.

No comments: