Delay dogs tiger research project
1 Feb 2009, 0507 hrs IST, Prithvijit Mitra, TNN
KOLKATA: Even as tiger straying continues in the Sunderbans, the authorities have been dragging their feet over a research programme on the big cats of the mangrove forest.
Funds sanctioned for the project have been lying with the state forest department, which is supposed to have passed on the money to the Wildlife Institute (WLI) in Dehradun. But neither has taken the initiative to get the project started.
In July 2008, the National Tiger Conservation Authority granted Rs 50 lakh for a research on tiger behaviour in the Sunderbans. WLI was asked to form a team of scientists, who would be based in the state for the research. New tiger census techniques like radio collaring and camera traps were also to be developed by the team. So far, there has been no progress. The fact that three tigers have strayed into the Sunderbans in the past one month - including one at Kultali which was killed after tranquillization - indicates the importance of research.
While the state forest department pleaded helplessness, saying it was up to WLI to initiate the project, it could not explain why the recommendations of the National Tiger Task Force were not implemented. Formed after the Sariska poaching incident in 2006, the task force had pointed out that 50% posts of forest guard posts in the Sunderbans were lying vacant. Younger guards should be appointed, it added, since the present workforce was "aging and unfit". Still, no new appointment has been made, although about three years have passed.
"The result is there for all to see. Tiger straying has become a weekly affair and forest department officials remain mute spectators. Unless they know where to begin, they will never be able to solve the problem. The research would have helped gauge tiger behaviour. At least, the task force recommendations should have been implemented. It is clear that the forest department neither has the manpower nor the resources to check straying," said a senior forest official.
A section of experts and forest officials also pointed out that the ad-hoc measures being taken to check straying were doing more harm than good. The recent release of deer to add to the prey-base in the Sunderbans has been criticized. "It is no use releasing deer from other forest areas into the Sunderbans because they will not be able to survive in the mangrove forest, where conditions are very tough. It would have been better to move deer and boar from within the forest to areas where a shortage of prey is suspected. But unfortunately, we don't have a clue about the distribution of prey in the Sunderbans," said S S Bist, managing director of West Bengal Forest Development Corporation.
Principal chief conservator of forests, Atanu Raha, said he was not aware of the task force's recommendations. "I am yet to study the recommendations."