Tourism lobby hold up tiger relocation
Anindo Dey, TNN 9 December 2009, 05:48am IST
JAIPUR: Three translocations later, the ambitious programme that the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the state government had embarked upon to re-populate the Sariska tiger reserve seems to have met a major hurdle.
The relocation of tigers from the Ranthambore reserve to Sariska has so far seen just two females and one male tiger being shifted to the new location. But even that was controversial for it was pointed out that it encouraged inbreeding among tigers.
Issues pertaining to the safety of the cats from poachers were also raised, especially as in Sariska it was alleged that all the cats had earlier killed by poachers. However, after having successfully shrugged off the allegation it has now put a virtual brake on the process with the relocation of a fourth tiger and many more after that seems to be going awry.
Little else explains the delays in the state getting a nod from the apex wildlife body when scientists from WII had already begun groundwork for the shifting of the fourth tiger about a month back.
And with the state forest department and the WII pleading preparedness for the fourth relocation, the onus for the delay rests on the NTCA.
"There were some issues pertaining to the in-breeding of the tigers. There was a group that felt that relocating tigers from Ranthambore to Sariska would result in in-breeding thereby lowering the quality of their breed. However, the WII did an indepth study of the tigers' DNA and identified those which could be relocated. Now we are ready and it should happen any day," said Rajesh Gopal, director of the NTCA.
On its part, the WII also seemed prepared. "We are not the ones to decide on relocation. Our expertise lies in the relocation part of it and we are ready, provided the nod comes from two other bodies,' says PR Singh, director of the WII.
The state too sounded optimistic. "We are ready and awaiting the nod from the Centre," said R N Mehrotra, chief wildlife warden, Rajasthan.
At this juncture, sources reveal it is a section of tiger experts from the country who have not been involved in the process so far. They added there are some from the tourism lobby who are opposed to the relocation which is holding up the process.
"These people were always opposed to relocation and had been citing plenty of reasons. However, after three successful relocations they were silenced but now with Sariska eating off a chunk of tourists from Ranthambore, they seem to have become active again," sources revealed.
"They do not want Ranthambore to lose its tourists as that would harm their ventures, including hotels, and hence, the opposition to Sariska. After the third tiger was relocated to Sariska, the forest had begun to see many tourists and was fast threatening to become the new found tiger reserve of the state," the source added.
"Many hotel operators in Ranthambore are running NGOs too and it is this lobby that has become active over the years with the kind of money they are making there. Now they care little about what happens to conservation and are more concerned that tigers do not move out of Ranthambore so that their money-making machine i.e. Ranthambore remains active," he added.
Rajpal Singh, member of state wildlife board, "A section of the tourism lobby has become so powerful that it may be difficult to save the tiger from their clutches."
Meanwhile, brakes on relocation of tigers from Ranthambore has come as a big jolt for the state forest department that was keen to see the over-populated reserve have some of its tigers shifted.
"Every other day there are tigers that are straying off from the forest for want of space. Even on Tuesday, a tiger strayed off to the Nayapur area of Ranthambore and pawed a woman. Luckily, she escaped with minor injuries. This comes close on the heels of another similar incident 15 days ago," said a forest official.
Amid this deadlock between conservation and petty politics it remains to be seen whether Sariska lives for its mission of nurturing the cats or becomes a victim once again.