Thursday, April 8, 2010

Coffee estates, resorts thrive in tiger habitats, but wildlife researchers get the boot

Now that the Karnataka Chief Wildlife Warden, B K Singh, has cited the National Tiger Conservation Authority order (N. PS—MS (NTCA)/2009 Misces, dated April 22, 2009) to stop research work and field interventions in core/critical tiger habitats, we could expect him to apply the same document to stop illegal poaching, timber felling, mining and tourism activities in Karnataka’s shrinking wildlife habitats.

While we should appreciate Mr B K Singh for being a honest, upright and principled Indian Forest Service officer, we also have to critique his knee-jerk action in stopping wildlife biologists/ researchers from pursuing their work for bettering wildlife management in our reserves.

The Minsitry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) and union minister for environment and forest, Mr Jairam Ramesh, have categorically encouraged the non-intrusive camera-trap method to enumerate tiger numbers in our reserves. They understand that molecular biology has been a handy tool as well.

Wildlife biologists and conservationists have been fighting against odds to put the future of the critically endangered tiger in perspective employing these methods. But suddenly, the CWW has woken up from his slumber, retrieved an old NTCA document from the KFD cupboard, and stopped all field research workers in their tracks. Wonder what he envisages to do or achieve.

If he truly has the interest of the tiger and all our wildlife species at heart, he would do well to address these issues:

1.There is rampant felling of trees and poaching in Bandipur Tiger Reserve. And as many as three tigers have been poached since he has taken charge. Yet, he has been unable to do anything about it. Also, the paws and claws of two dead tigers were removed. But no recovery has been made yet.

2.We find cattle grazing deep inside the forests, posing threat to wildlife populations. In the past foot and mouth disease had consumed several heads of gaur. Recently, a tiger cub was found dead in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve near a cattle kill. While there is suspicion that the six-month old cub could have been poisoned by enraged villagers, B K Singh deemed that the cub had been killed by its mother. When there was scarcely anything left of the cow and the tiger to conduct a post mortem, how could he/ vets conclude on the actual cause of death. We need a proper / true explanation, don’t we?

3.The NTCA tiger management plan clearly states that there should be no interventions in inviolate, critical tiger habitats. But there are five estates in the very womb of the BRT wildlife sanctuary, where the tiger population has increased manifold (33 now). If the same yardstick is being applied to evict tribal settlements, why shouldn’t estates be demolished and critical elephant corridors be restored?

4.The NTCA guidelines imply that tiger states should expand on the buffer zone in tiger reserves, but the CWW, who for some quaint reason believes that there are tigers and elephants in California, has done very little about. Should we ask, how much area of buffer zone has been added to Karnataka tiger reserves since he took charge?

5.As a matter of fact, though there is a restriction on the carrying capacity (tourism) in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, more and more resorts have been given permission to entertain their quests/ clients. He would do our harassed wildlife a favor, if he could also retract the tourism permits issued to resort operators, as he has done with the permission to wildlife researchers.

6.Again, if the CWW sincerely has the future of our flagship species at heart, he would do well to rid our wildlife parks of lackadaisical, incompetent and corrupt officers from eight of the 12 ranges in the Bandipur national park. Could he possibly relocate such range forest officers?

7.Since he has precious little background in wildlife and has a Field Director (Project Tiger) who is equally ignorant, he should talk the B S Yeddyurrappa government (if it cares) into relocating him in a position where he would be comfortable. He would do this if he has interest in saving the tiger from extinction in Karnataka’s forests.

8.More importantly, he has to motivate the field staff who are utterly demoralized. When range forest officers themselves don’t get the CWW’s backing when they take on poachers and timber smugglers living in the vicinity of the reserves, you can well imagine how the guards, watchers, trackers, who are effectively the nose, eye and ear of the forests, feel. With frugal salaries and emotional support, most of the staff are already looking for greener pastures.

9.BK Singh has stated that the Karnataka Forest Department would look after all issues related to protection of the tiger and its habitats. But the fact remains that the staff are just about learning the nuances of using scientific tools in assessing the tiger numbers in our reserves. He should understand that wildlife conservationists, researchers and NGOs have been active stakeholders in protecting Karnataka’s precious wildlife and its habitat. Without them, a lot more tigers would have made it to the lucrative markets of Nepal and the Far-East.

10.There are more questions that can be posed to this honest, upright senior IFS officer. But he would do well to address at least three of these issues, before hamstringing wildlife biologists and researches from doing what they are doing in the larger interests of our dwindling wildlife.

11.Is the CWW worried that wildlife researches would expose the nefarious happenings/ goings on in our tiger reserves?

Dr Rajesh Gopal, Member-secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority, should be kicking himself to have such officers in crucial decision-making positions, especially when the tiger is under serious threat of going extinct.

God save our wildlife.

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