Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bad weather for tigers

Bad weather for tigers

The local extinction of Sariska should teach us one clear lesson - never, never again should we take the security of the tiger for granted.

Morning in Ranthambhore. We had been watching flying foxes swoop low over the lake for some time when the tall grass at the water's edge began to sway. Near our jeep, a young tigress, peaceful but alert these past 10 minutes, raised her head and turned it in the direction of the rustling grass, the white spot on the back of each ear daring us to shift in our seats. A large shape became discernible. As our tigress rose to her feet, a low growl emanated from the waving grass. Then, just four metres from where we sat, the grass parted, and another tigress appeared, a chital fawn dangling from her jaws.

By the time you read this piece, both the young tigresses described will be on the search for new territories away from the famous lakes of Ranthambhore. The trouble is that there is little land available for new tigers. This is why serious efforts are on by the Rajasthan Forest Department to provide the tigers of Ranthambhore an ‘escape’ from the ecological cul de sac into which decades of deforestation around the tiger reserve has islanded them.

Sitting at Jogi Mahal across the waters of Padam Talao, we heard Parmesh Chandra, State Additional Chief Secretary, Rajasthan, say quite simply what his strategy was to remedy this situation: “Apart from physical protection, we plan to provide tigers with freer access to outlying areas that we have begun protecting more effectively, including the Sawai Mansingh, Sawai Madhopur, Keladevi, and Qualji Closed Area Sanctuaries. The corridors linking these forests with Ranthambhore are key to safeguarding the future of Rajasthan’s tigers.” We agreed unreservedly.

The empty forest syndrome

Meanwhile, a hop and disconnected step away from Ranthambhore, in Sariska, no tigers pad forests that once were the pride of Rajasthan and Project Tiger. The last one was killed sometime in 2004, thanks to a combination of determined international trading syndicates, unscrupulous villagers and a demotivated and directionless field staff. The plan is to translocate as many as six wild tigers back to Sariska, of which two (a male and a female) have already been shifted. This move, according to the Chief Wildlife Warden of Rajasthan, Ramesh Mehrotra, is timely because: “Not only does this have the requisite political support, but technical and financial support too. Of course this is still a very risky proposition that involves the shifting of villages, a national highway and placing curbs on an all-powerful temple board.”

Everyone who wants tigers to survive is watching the outcome of this shift with bated breath. When he was alive, Rajesh Pilot had promised us in the mid-1990s: “I will help rebuild the green corridor between Sariska and Ranthambhore.” Had his mission not been thwarted by a tragic road accident, Sariska might never have lost all its tigers.

The local extinction of Sariska should teach us one clear lesson - never, never again should we take the security of the tiger for granted.

Of course, even as we speak, more forests in India are being emptied. And the office of the Prime Minister of India is hopelessly out of synch with a growing number of national and state forest and wildlife departments mandated to expand and secure the fast depleting ecological foundation of India. Thus coal mines funded by the World Bank strip forests in Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, while nuclear reactors and uranium mines are being contemplated in the strike zones of the Sundarbans, Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam and Kanha Tiger Reserves. This amounts to suicide for India, which will need these forests to temper the impact of climatic changes. But as of now there is little better we can expect from politicians who have chosen to aggravate our deforestation and climate change crisis by diluting the Forest (Conservation) Act at the hands of the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, which is poised to gift millions of hectares of survival assets to people who have no means to protect land from commercial brigands.

Though the tigers of Ranthambhore are relatively safe, the truth is that across the country, tigers have never faced worse weather, both literally and figuratively thanks to the ecological bankruptcy of our planning process and a political class that cannot think beyond the next election.

http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Jul132008/finearts2008071278446.asp
http://www.bigcatrescue.org/

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