Time running out for Dudhwa’s tigers
September 27th, 2009 - 10:53 am ICT by IANS
By Sanjeeb Baruah
Dudhwa (Uttar Pradesh), Sep 27 (IANS) Tigers have no place to hide in Dudhwa National Park. With trains and buses plying through the sanctuary, poachers move around easily to pick their targets.
This 680-sq km sal forest in Lakhimpur-Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, is home to some 60 tigers. But their time is slowly running out with mounting threats from poachers and timber smugglers plundering the habitat.
Dudhwa also shares a porous international border with Nepal.
Over 100 heavy vehicles use the 25-km stretch of the Palia-Gauriphanta road in the park every day. Besides this, vehicles also ply on the Dudhwa-Chandan Chauki, Chandan Chauki-Dingania, Bhira-Mailani and Chandan Chauki-Mornochani roads.
The buses are for people who live in villages dotted within the forest and for Nepali citizens who come to India through the Gauriphanta border post.
According to Pinaki P. Singh, deputy director of the park, there is a proposal to build another road to divert the heavy vehicles away from the Palia-Gauriphanta road.
The proposed road is likely to come up near Sumernagar, some 9-12 km away from the park. The plan is currently being studied by the forest department, local administration and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), responsible for security along the India-Nepal border.
“The heavy vehicles are a big menace for us. Only small vehicles will be allowed on this road,” Singh said.
The Mohona river demarcating the border between India and Nepal also forms the northern boundary of the park, while the Suheli river forms its southern and southwestern boundaries.
“All types of illegal activities, wildlife trade, arms and drugs smuggling, are taking place at the border. Nepali citizens enter the forest to smuggle timber. My guards (forest guards) cannot take action as they cross the border after committing the crimes,” Singh told IANS.
In addition, about 13 passenger trains run every day on the 35-km Palia-Dudhwa-Bellraien section of the park. The lines were laid in the pre-independence period to transport timber. Of the eight railway stations in the park, two are still in use, two others are under illegal occupation and the rest abandoned.
“We have been trying to stop the train service for the past 10 years. The railway ministry is aware of the problem but won’t stop it. They know the moment it abandons its activities, the forest department will take over the area and will never return the land. It was leased to the Railways to build the track.
“There is even a proposal to convert the metre gauge line to broad gauge. The train service is unprofitable, but they are running it to keep the land in their control,” Singh said.
Local officials say some 70 percent of the passengers on this route travel without tickets and nobody dares to ask them for one. Even the railway protection force is afraid to enforce the law, as the locals beat them up at isolated stations in the forest.
“Criminals also ask drivers to slow down trains so they can get down in the park and do whatever they want. From the public welfare point of view or from wildlife conservation point of view the train service is of no use; nor is it helping the Railways,” said Singh.
The rough terrain of this Terrai landscape also makes patrolling difficult. There is a high risk of poaching in the north as the area on the Nepal side is well connected by roads.
Besides this, two markets at Gauriphanta and Chandan Chauki are major pollutants.
The Dudhwa National Park, created in 1977, has a good number of breeding tigers that need inviolate space to thrive. The narrow ‘green corridors’ vital for the movement of tigers between adjoining forest patches have shrunk, leaving them exposed and resulting in man-animal conflicts.
A census in 2005 estimated about 100 tigers in the Dudhwa National Park, including the adjacent Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary. But the number is now estimated to have come down to about 60. It is also home to the attractive Barasingha deer (known for its 12-tine antlers) and a large population of leopards.