Friday, May 16, 2008

Dwindling tiger population of Valmiki Forest Reserve

Dwindling tiger population of Valmiki Forest Reserve

Amitabh Srivastava
May 16, 2008

It was an ill-fated night when a Royal Bengal tiger was ensnared in an iron mesh by suspected poachers from neighbouring Nepal at the Valmiki Tiger Reserve located in West Champaran district in Bihar.

When the trap's jagged metal teeth sunk into its paw, the tiger howled hard-an alarm that was enough to arouse the otherwise sleepy rangers. The tiger's screams kept the poachers at bay, who obviously thought that the rangers would come sooner than they actually did.

For some strange reasons though, the rangers preferred to wait till the crack of dawn. It was too late for the tiger.

Ironically, the tiger's apparent cause of death-besides the injury-was the severe stress that it had to grapple with during the entire night. It vainly struggled to free itself.

By the time, the forest officials could rush help the tiger had reached the point from where it could not have returned.

Forest officials claim that the tiger apparently died out of shock, as a huge crowd had assembled to see the tiger in trap. Obviously, the local rangers failed to clear the space.

But what was worse was the unavailability of guns loaded with tranquilisers that prevented the tiger reserve officials from helping the struggling animal timely, who was obviously not allowing anyone to approach him even in distress.

A big cat had to be tranquilised before one could approach it. Unfortunately, the death occurred before a team carrying the tranquiliser gun reached the place of occurrence.

Bihar Chief Conservator of Forest, MK Sharma said they have picked preliminary inputs, which suggests that an international poacher gang was involved in the killing of the tiger.

"We have constituted a probe committee. I am personally going to visit the Valmiki Tiger Reserve to investigate the incident," he said, adding that it was not prudent on his part to issue statements before completion of the probe.

Bihar's newly appointed Forest and Environment Minister Ramji Rishidev, who earlier promised to bring out the entire details, is tight-lipped over the issue. He refused to comment on the issue.

Sharma's inputs on international gang of poachers may be correct, but that does not really absolve the Tiger reserve officials of their responsibility.

It should not come as a surprise if the reserve officials had an inkling of the incident as they loud cries of the big cat echoed in the reserve. If the poachers had reached the spot timely, there are chances that the officials may have remained oblivious of the tragic death of a tiger.

Bihar has always been dogged by the problem of poaching. This crisis may further worsen due to the booming tiger skin market in China. Eyeing the larger war booties to encash upon from this lucrative business, poachers are trying to quench their new level of greed.

China has always been a huge market of tiger skins, along with ground tiger bones, whiskers and sex organs for use in traditional Chinese medicine. A large, flawless tiger pelt can fetch over Rs four lakhs, while powdered tiger bones also sell for thousands per kilogram. Similarly, Tibet too has become a virtual shopping mall for tigers. Incidentally, Bihar borders Nepal, which is often used as a transit point by smugglers en route to China

Bihar Forest Department sources claim that the poachers, who deal in organs and skins of the wildlife species, often succeed in their ventures because they have tacit support of few locals who have settled on encroached land of the tiger reserve areas under Valmiki forest.

With this tragic death, even by official estimates, Bihar is now left with only 32 tigers-down from 56 tigers that it had in 2002, according to CAG report of 2005-2006.

The report had suggested that as many as 23 tigers had disappeared in between 2002 and 2006.

Sharma, however, refused to comment on the exact number of tigers at the Valmiki Reserve. "Theirs is a floating population. It's difficult to tell the exact number of tigers present in the park at one given time," he said.

Similarly, while the actual poaching figures are not available, sources admit that tiger population has dwindled in Bihar. In 1989, the forest reportedly had 80 tigers. It dipped to 56 in 2002 and 33 in 2005.

The Valmiki Reserve in West Champaran is the 18th forest reserve in the country and is spread over 880.78sqkm in north Bihar. Located close to the Chitwan National Park of Nepal, the Valmiki Forest Reserve was declared a national park in 1989.

Security at the Valmiki Reserve which is home to leopards, deer, black bucks and sloth bears, has never been considered up to the mark.

It is indeed difficult to patrol the rugged terrain, which is also home to dacoits and Naxalites. The Tiger reserve is also severely understaffed, and one forest guard is required to cover 15-20 kms, which is humanly impossible.

The Bagaha-Chitauni broad gauge which is running through the Valmiki Tiger Reserve, a stretches of 6 km, has caused death of many wild animals.

Around 50 trains, passenger and goods trains, pass through this track daily. According to official figures, as many as 17 incidents of animals getting run over have been reported in the last two years.

The forest officials have approached the railways, asking them to stipulate a speed of 20km/h in daytime and 10 km/h during night for the train while they pass through the reserve. But, the railway officials have turned down the request, claiming that the decreased speed would amount to reducing the number of trains on this track almost by half.

But, apart from the killing tracks, it is the poachers that pose the biggest threat to the big cats in Bihar. Observers believe that if this continues, in another five years this feline population will plunge into extinction in Bihar.

Several days have passed since the tragic death of the big cat but the investigation still has not yielded any significant lead so far.

Bihar forest reserve officials have to do a lot of answering as the death of leopard is signalling the unimaginable reach of poachers in the reserve. Hurried and sincere efforts are needed to upkeep the tiger population and the reserve from not being tagged as 'it was once an abode of tigers'.

http://indiatoday.digitaltoday.in/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=8375&issueid=53&Itemid=1
 


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