Saturday, February 23, 2008

National animal faces nation wide threat

National animal faces nation wide threat

Gokul Chandrasekar, 21 February 2008, Thursday

Poaching and the loss of tiger habitats amid India's rapid economic development have been blamed for the slump. The biggest decline in tiger numbers occurred in poorer central states, which have traditionally had the highest concentration of tigers.

THE LAST thing India's national animal needed was a fresh controversy on just how many tigers exist. The number of tigers in India has plummeted to around 1, 411, nearly half the previous estimate, as humans either kill them for their body parts or encroach on their habitat, according to a government survey. The estimate comes from the latest tiger census by the government-run National Tiger Conservation Authority, and is based on a more complex counting method. The previous census, carried out in 2001 and 2002, said there were 3,642 tigers. The earlier tiger counts were made based on pugmarks unlike the latest one where more scientific methods have been used, according to the claim.

The report: State of tiger, co-predators and prey in India said there had been an overall decrease in the tiger population except in Tamil Nadu where the numbers have gone up substantially. Poachers have cleared some reserves, such as Sariska in Rajasthan. Others, such as Bandhavgarh in Madya Pradesh, have seen sharp drops due to encroachment on the forest.

Poaching and the loss of tiger habitats amid India's rapid economic development have been blamed for the slump. The biggest decline in tiger numbers occurred in the poorer central states, which have traditionally had the highest concentration of tigers. The encroachment of humans on areas inhabited by tigers has been a key factor in the decline. Local conservationists say this leads to more "man-animal conflict" and reduces the amount of tiger prey available.

A century ago India had a population of more than 40,000 tigers. Tigers are killed for their body parts, with their skins is prized and bones used in medicines. Pelts are sold for more than £8,000 apiece in China. Even after the bans imposed by the government warning not to gather even wood from the hunting grounds, poaching of tigers continue.

The report recommends tiger populations be connected through buffer zones where human land use is restricted. It also suggests better incentives for local people to protect tigers.

However, conservationists say a new government policy intended to help poor indigenous people threatens to hasten the decline in tiger numbers. Under the proposal, these tribal people will have the right to gain access to large tracts of remote forests.

The Indian government is planning to create eight new tiger reserves. Under the plan, about 250 villages, probably accounting for 200,000 people, would be relocated, with each family given one million rupees. But this would take five years to set up, and is expected to cost the taxpayers a whopping Rs 600 crores.

The country is home to 40 percent of the world's tigers, with 23 tiger reserves in 17 states.

In Andhra Pradesh the population of tigers stands at 95 (as compared to 192, when the last census was carried out). Similarly, Chhattisgarh has 26 (227), Madhya Pradesh 300 (710), Maharashtra 103 (238), Orissa 45 (173) and Rajasthan 32 (58). Sariska has no tigers left.

In the Western Ghats, Karnataka is left with 290 (compared to 401 in 2002) and Kerala 46 (71).

Tamil Nadu has been an exception where the population has increased 76 (60).

In the Northeast Hills and Brahmaputra Plains, Assam has only 70 tigers against 354 in the previous census. Arunachal Pradesh has 14 tigers against 61, Mizoram six (28) and North/West Bengal 10 against 349 earlier.

Strong imperatives are the need of the hour to safeguard the national animal.

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