by Chandrika Mago
[ 26 Aug, 2006 0332hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]
NEW DELHI: The official figure on tiger counts will now come only at the end of 2007.
The environment ministry made this clear on Friday, a day when Parliament approved the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill aimed at setting up a national tiger conservation authority and a wildlife crime control bureau and the Comptroller and Auditor-General punched holes in the strategy and census methods followed on the tiger trail all these years.
In the 15 reserves created up to 1984, tiger counts rose from 1,121 in that year to 1,141 in 2001-02, "a rate of increase which highlights the ineffectiveness of measures taken under Project Tiger to attain a viable tiger population", notes CAG, in a report made public Friday.
During the same period, the overall tiger population in the country declined from 3,623 to 2,906.
CAG notes that even the inadequate data available indicated that over 60% of tigers died because of poaching, poisoning or electrocution. All statistics indicate that tiger deaths from poaching far outweigh deaths from natural causes.
The Project Tiger directorate, however, accepted it was "helpless in the enforcement of its guidelines in the absence of any statutory empowerment". The hope is, the new Bill will change this.
What both CAG and environment ministry agree on is that the earlier pugmark method of counting tigers wasn't good enough. CAG says tiger estimation was not done annually in most reserves; nine showed a decrease in numbers which was never analysed or investigated.
The Centre and the Wildlife Institute of India are now in the middle of a three-phase, mammoth effort to calculate tiger densities and habitat across the country, with the help of nearly 90,000 people and scientists, under the gaze of experts.
They are running late. So much so that WII scientists said Friday the final report could be expected only by November-December 2007. They are looking not just at tiger numbers but at patterns of distribution and the viability of populations.
CAG, putting the magnifying glass to tiger reserves, pointed not just to the diversion of Central funds but all kinds of problems. Fifteen of 28 tiger reserves had area less than half the prescribed area, not conducive for conservation.
The Project Tiger directorate had just seven staffers and could not even process the periodical reports and returns from reserves or critically examine management plans and issue directions.
CAG notes that relocation of people in reserves and prevention of encroachment is essential to ease pressure. Officials had some reason to celebrate, however, having won the battle to get the wildlife Bill through Parliament with changes which won over tribal rights Bill activists who were otherwise opposing it.