Monday, April 19, 2010

Interview: Tiger Crusader, Dr Rajesh Gopal Is Confident

Though the tiger population has fallen drastically in the wild over the last ten years, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) member-secretary Dr Rajesh Gopal is confident that the majestic beast could make a dramatic comeback if tiger reserves are managed scientifically.

Dr Gopal, who has given his life for tiger conservation and virtually run from pillar to post to get the powers-that-be to wake up to the grim situation, spoke about issues related to conservation of the endangered species.

This interview was done quite some time ago. But the situation hasn’t changed much, reflecting the apathy of the forest ministers in tiger states.

All of us -- government, senior forest officials, publicity-seeking NGOs, media (print and electronic), common man… -- need to take responsibility for driving the majestic tiger to this predicament.

Excerpts of the interview:

What is the present status of the tiger?
It is not a happy situation. However, it has shown where we must prioritize to protect the species. Certain things could have been done earlier. But we cannot blame the government alone. Professionals and experts in the field are also to be equally blamed. 25 years ago we should have been as serious as we are now. We could have identified the weaknesses. Sadly, we got lost in the battle of numbers.

Is the conflict between the department and researchers cause for the tiger crisis?
The conflict between the department and experts has unfortunately created animosity. The NTCA has decided to end this cold war. We need to rope in expertise from outside the system. We will get good practices in place soon.

Has resettlement of forest dwellers hampered the process?
We can't close our eyes to reality. If we allow disturbances in our forests, the tiger will be in great danger of extinction. The status of the tiger, co-predators and prey species is very important. The situation is very serious in nine reserves. We have set out advisors to these reserves to put an effective management system in place.

How much space does the tiger require to do well?
An area of 800 to 1000 sqkm is a must for a viable population. There should be a minimum of 20-22 tigresses in the core area. In such a scenario the population could lead to 65 over a period of time. If the buffer zone could be expanded, we could have anywhere between 80 to 100 tigers in an area of 800 to 3000 sqkm.

But to achieve those figures, we have to ensure all the 17 tiger reserves are made inviolate. So far 14 reserves have already been notified as inviolate areas and forest settlers are leady being relocated.

The government has set aside Rs 600 crore for the tiger, but temporary staff are being paid their salary once in six months. Why?
I admit this is a very serious issue. It is the common in several states. But some are pro-active and reflect this expense in their budget. They adjust the amount when we release the funds. The delay for some states is not from the government of India. Some states do not send their APO (Annual Plan of Operation) in time.
To address this issue, we amended the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) in 2006 to allow tiger reserves to create a Tiger Conservation Foundation (TCF). The TCF could provide for these expenditure and be paid when the funds come in. We have issued detailed guidelines. Unfortunately, there is dichotomy in some forest departments.

Are you happy with the system that is being followed?
We need to improve the delivery system. We need to have a sub-cadre to manage wildlife. We need to have scientific inputs to save wildlife. Without an effective delivery system no amount of guidelines will work.

Can the tiger survive extinction?
The blue print is ready. The relocation package has been increased. We still have scope to save the tiger. I am confident that we will succeed if the habitats and corridors are kept intact. I am glad that civil society institutions have woken up and the general public is aware of the crisis faced by the tiger.

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