'Chinese superstition the biggest threat to tiger conservation'
11 Nov 2009, 2033 hrs IST, ANI
KOLKATA: With China observing the year of the Tiger in 2010, conservationists across the globe fear the endangered mammal would be threatened more, as trade in tiger goods is likely to rise considerably.
Chinese superstition is one of the primary reasons behind poaching of tigers. There is huge demand for tiger skins, tiger bones, tiger tooth and tiger nails amongst superstitious Chinese.
In the Year of the Tiger, the demand for tiger products would be obvious for its auspicious value.
Conservationists want the trade in tiger goods to be stopped completely by the Chinese government. "Merely making tiger the theme for the year is dangerous. The government should initiate awareness programmes for the protection and conservation of tigers. Killing of tigers for tiger products should be stopped completely. As long as there is poaching, tigers would continue to remain on the endangered list", claimed Suchanda Kundu, Member, Sanctuary Asia.
"Creating awareness amongst the local population about the need to protect the tiger and conserve its habitat is also essential", added Atanu Kumar Raha, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, West Bengal.
"There is no doubt that a man-tiger conflict exists wherever there are tigers. However, this conflict can be kept at a minimum if both sides don't infringe upon each other's habitation", Raha added.
In West Bengal, there are about 250 to 274 tigers within the Sunderbans delta area and another 45-50 in other protected zones like the Buxa Tiger Reserve, Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary etc.
According to Raha, keeping the tiger population intact at around 200-250 is ideal for the territory in Sunderbans. However, depletion of grasslands in North Bengal for setting up tea gardens has brought down the number of herbivores in the area, consequently affecting tigers, which don't breed in such a situation.
Hence, the number of tigers in Buxa Tiger Reserve or Jaldapara National Park has come down significantly.
The good news is that on the Bangladesh side of the Sunderbans covering about 6000 sq kms, the tiger population was estimated at around 400 during the 2003, joint Indo-Bangladesh Tiger Census.
The Sundari tree forests across the border, sustainable due to less salinity in the water on the other side, have been conducive to the tiger population, according to Raha.
The next Tiger Census in the Sunderbans is scheduled for January, 2010 and it will be done through a combination of traditional pug mark process as well as the new DNA analysis of tiger excreta.
Large number of teams would fan out across the 4000-odd sq km area of the Indian Sunderbans to collect tiger excreta as well as put up bait for tiger under camera surveillance.
The results of the pug mark identification, DNA analysis of tiger excreta and camera surveillance would all be combined together to arrive at a much more realistic figure of the existing tiger population, said Raha.
There have been several reports of tigers venturing into villages in the estuarine area and killing cattle and attacking people.
However, Raha points out that these incidents have been occurring for years but due to lack of good communication, the news did not come out. Now, with improved roads, transport and telecommunications, information comes out of the delta area faster, giving the feeling that tigers coming into villages have increased.
"But what has really changed is the number of straying cats being killed by the villagers. The villagers have been sensitized through campaigns by the wildlife department as well as several NGOs working in the region to not hurt the animal. They now know to immediately call the forest officials who rush to the spot, trap the animal and then release it within the core area of Project Tiger safely, said Joydeep Kundu, Member, Sanctuary Asia.
According to Raha, the Central government sanctions about Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 3 crore for tiger conservation in West Bengal while the State Government spends around Rs 7 crore each year. However, to conserve the tiger, the entire eco-system needs to be supported and conserved.
Funds are being solicited from the Japan Bank for development in the Sunderbans area. The idea is to set up employment opportunities for the villagers outside forest areas.
"Then, the villagers would not go inside the core area or the forests for timber, firewood, honey or fishing. This would reduce the man-animal conflict considerably and also keep the tiger habitat projected", Raha added.
The plan is for sustainable development in the area with ample employment opportunities, security measures against poaching and creating awareness on the need to save tigers.
Raha feels that the Sunderbans is currently saturated as far as the tiger population is concerned. The challenge lies in ensuring that the numbers do not decrease.