Tigers in Sariska still under threat
Sunday, July 6, 2008 (Sariska)
Tigers are roaring in Sariska again, with a pair from Ranthambore being relocated in the past week. All tigers in Sariska were wiped out three years ago in what's considered India's worst wildlife disaster.
But even as the big cats are brought back, the man-animal conflict in Sariska remains severe. Given the human pressure on the park, Sariska remains vulnerable to poaching and too porous a habitat for tigers to be really safe.
After entering Sariska, people normally head for the water hole at Kalighati - the most popular point to spot tigers since royal times.
And tigers may soon be visible here with the new visitors. Besides fitting radio collars to track the relocated tigers officials say several steps have been taken to prevent poaching.
''We are deploying ex-Armymen to protect Sariska. During the monsoon, we will also deploy soldiers of the Rajasthan Armed Constabulary and in critical areas in the park, we will also have night patrolling by our guards,'' R N Mehrotra, Chief Wildlife Warden, Rajasthan.
Despite these claims, serious loopholes still exist. Besides the threat from poachers over nine thousand people still live in the 28 villages in the park, four of which are located in its core area.
The Tiger Task Force had recommended their relocation before bringing back the tigers, but so far just one village has actually been relocated and most villagers are in no mood to leave.
''This is the land of our fore-fathers and if we are asked to leave we will face lots of difficulties. Our biggest fear is that wherever we go people will be hostile to us just as we would be if somebody is brought to settle down in our villages here,'' said Bhola Ram, a resident of Pilapani village, Sariska.
What makes the park so porous are the two state highways that slice through Sariska. Over 3000 vehicles pass here daily and nearly 2 lakh pilgrims visit the two temples inside the park annually.
But locals resent any move to close these highways.
''All our shops and business will collapse if the highway is closed down. And if there's no traffic on this route, people in our villages will starve as we won't have any work to earn a living,'' said one villager.
While the relocation of tigers to Sariska is most welcome, the man-animal conflict and the poaching threats here are still grim.
And unless these are addressed on a priority, protecting the big cats here will still remain a big challenge.