24 hours with the Sariska tigers
Saturday , October 04, 2008 at 02 : 31
It's a National Park that grabbed world headlines. With the mass wipe out of all its tigers Sariska became a blot in in the history of conservation in India. And two years later the King of the Jungle is back.. In June 2008 the Indian Air Force airlifted two tigers from Ranthambore National Park to be translocated to Sariska. And since then quietly yet determinedly a virtual army of foot soldiers and wildlife scientists are tracking two radio-collared tigers to make sure this time round nothing goes wrong.
So far no one has been allowed inside this heavily barricaded park. Operation Big Cat is in full swing. Three hundred men patrol the park- every visitor into the park is frisked and the area where the tigers have been released is cordoned off to make sure the tigers are adjusted to their new home. As the only media team allowed inside to track the tigers on foot - we are able to get witness firsthand the mammoth size effort on to protect these tigers and to meet the men engaged in a task virtually next to impossible.
The terrain is of Sariska is rugged - its also indicative of the terrain the tiger walks on. Both the tigers have been fitted with radio collars sending out signals to a satellite which then sends the data which is monitored daily by scientists daily at the Wildlife Institute of India, top officials of the Rajasthan Forest Department and the National Tiger Conservation Authority in New Delhi. In addition two teams are physically tracking the tigers as well, day and night. Some of them have now been on duty since the last 14 hours but they continue relentless with an almost feverish obsession.
At the some point on the tiger trail it takes on the nature of a comedy film- the officers climb trees so do we. They lead us through a tough terrain in the forest we slip and slid away but we continue relentless.. And then finally we do see it- the tail of the tiger. It's the female.
Tracking these big cats is like uncovering a secret. We follow the male as he walks along a jungle trail- he sniffs the scent of a nilgai moves up towards the hill. The mighty animal then climbs right down and moves along the sandy banks of a stream.. And all along the steady 'click' click' sounds is all we have. To be walking within 50 metres of this mighty animal that has inspired folklore caught the nations attention, obsessed the media about its status, is an honour.
Across the world many experiments have been undertaken to restock wild populations on the verge of extinction. The Golden tamarins a small primate species have been bred in captivity and released in the wild in the Amazon forests. But with newly released animals the chances of losing them are always high. On an average only one out of every three animals released in such experiments in the wild ever survives... the survival rates are very low.. Thats why Sariska needs more tigers and very soon.. it is possible in the coming days Sariska may lose a tiger.. there maybe a natural death.. but nothing can take away from the honest effort made by a rag tag group of foot soldiers to make sure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
Frontline staff protecting forests across the country are all above the age of 50- a majority physically unfit for the job. For the tigers of Sariska the state government and the Project Tiger had to make sure that young people were deployed. If the tigers of not just Sariska but across India have to be saved its this frontline fleet of green soldiers that needs a revamping.
Hopefully Sariska will become a conservation success story- You may never see the faces of these green soldiers. But in the forest of Sariska - a wily mongoose digs up its last shoots, a monitor lizard squats lazily in the sun, as a sambar deer dashes past our jeep- the entire forest is reverbrating only with one truth- the king of the jungle is back - And every one is on their toes.