Website by AQEEL FAROOQI  

 


 

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OTHER ARTICLES

Problems of identification of camera-trapped tigers
Indian Wildlife - challenges in the new millennium
The greying of India
On the road to extinction
A Tribute to Rumbha - the elephant  
State development project threatens state bird - Sarus
Shahtoosh ban gains momentum worldwide
The road to disaster
Killing nilgais in the name of crop protection
Warring NGO's may spell doom for the tiger
Where have all the sparrows gone?
Cuckoos that fly out of crows' nests
Corbett park woes continue to mount
A question on post mortem examinations in the wild
Is it time to 'cry wolf' again?
Lifting of US sanctions may boost wildlife conservation
Migratory waterfowl may be hit by war in Afghanistan
UP wetlands to provide improved habitat to waterfowl
Anthrax as a potent wildlife killer
Man-elephant conflict takes heavy toll
Demoiselle cranes fly to safety in India
How long lasting are conservation victories
Fake tiger skins : a knotty disguise
Who cares for the wild here anyway?
A tribute to Charger - the long living tiger
Draining of wetlands threatening wildlife
Wildlife management needs rapid response units
Dudhwa loses another tiger
Indian Wildlife Board meets after five years
 
TIGER ON THE ROAD ......to extinction
by Aqeel Farooqi.
(first published in the Hindustan Times, Lucknow in 1998)  

The death knell has been sounded, and there remains no doubt that the Indian tiger - that awesome and most beautiful of all cats - is now leaving its last few pugmarks on the short road to extinction. There is a sense of helplessness and desperation in all wildlife lovers about the inevitability of the tiger's extinction, fuelled not by the ever-decreasing number of tigers, but by the seeming lack of concern in this area.      

Year after year, optimistic tiger census figures, generated by dubious means, are flaunted at us. If these are to be believed, we have a steady tiger population in the country, one that is not showing a downtrend but actually increasing. On the other hand, the various national and international NGOs, vociferously engaged in a last-ditch battle to save the tiger, are giving it no more than ten years of life in the wilds of India. Their contention is based on the rapidly growing incidence of tiger poaching in and around the various national parks in the country, which is also indicated by seizures of tiger skins and parts all over the country.      

The recent spurt in tiger deaths near Corbett & Dudhwa Tiger Reserves have all been attributed to poisoning by villagers who, angry at losing livestock to the great predator, resort to lacing the carcass of the cow or buffalo killed by the tiger with  massive doses of pesticide.  But does this vile, and purely human instinct for revenge, in any way dilute the ghastly fact that the tigers have been poached? The loss that the entire nation suffers when a tiger is killed is surely far greater than the loss of a cow or buffalo of a poor villager. Whereas giving money to the villager can compensate for cattle killed by the feline, can even one dead tiger be replaced? This 'angry villager' syndrome that we seem to be getting trapped in, will be a welcome smoke-screen for the poacher-trader nexus which is thriving brazenly  on tiger bones and parts.      

It is quite understandable that a free ranging cat like the tiger is bound to come in conflict with humans living in the vicinity of its shrinking habitat, and constantly making inroads or trespassing in core areas. It is also reasonable to give concessions to the people for whom saving the tiger and its habitat is just a government job, and a tough one too. But it is not logical for people who commit lapses in their job, to evade responsibility by hiding behind thin veils.     

There was one incident in Dudhwa last year, where the killing of a sub-adult tiger, whose body was found in early stages of decomposition, was explained away by the authorities as death due to intra-specific fight. Billy Arjan Singh cried himself hoarse in meetings and in the newspapers, that it is the rarest of incidents when a tiger will kill another of its kind, but to no avail. To prove his contention that this tiger had been poached by humans, one activist of the Tiger Haven Wildlife Trust came up with a photograph that showed a homespun rope made out of moonjh grass, knotted around the foreleg of that tiger carcass. "The big tiger killed this small one, then tied the rope and wanted to drag him away", was the wry comment of this activist, who absolutely discarded the 'intra-specific fight' theory.      

Earlier, there had been more bizzare explanations, when a spurt of killings saw four tiger carcasses floating in the waterbodies in and around Dudhwa. These were attributed to drowning death by suicide, committed by the tigers following rapid increase in their population. It was hard to visualize Indian tigers behaving like lemmings and jumping into the water to commit suicide, when even a layman could understand that a poisoned tiger, whose trachea is choking in spasms, will rush madly towards water in its death throes, as those poor tigers did.      

The need of the hour is honesty. On all sides. This virtue, which most of us today don't consider worth passing on to our children, is what the tiger desperately needs, if at all it is to be saved. The forest officials, on their part, must come forward and admit tiger deaths that are caused due to poaching, rather than trying to evade responsibility by evolving ridiculous explanations for them.       

Once a tiger death due to poaching is accepted, and the acceptance is backed up by the firm commitment to overcome the lapse, it would become that much easier to go all out in evolving and implementing effective damage-control measures. Otherwise, the forest department's folly will always be evident to others, even though ostrich-like, it may have hidden its head under some convenient, but unlikely, explanation.      

On the other hand, there is the growing tendency of non-official conservationists to lay the entire blame on the forest department officials without taking cognizance of their limitations in terms of staff, equipment and commitment. That is the basic reason why these two protagonists, playing out the drama of the tiger's extinction, are constantly at loggerheads. And so, while they keep their horns locked in adversarial contest, vital time is going waste, and nothing concrete is being done. Forest criminals and tiger poachers are having a field day. Trees are being felled to fuel illegal activities of the timber mafia, while tigers are being regularly killed for their skins and bones, which pass through greased palms, and find their way into countries like China, to be sold for astonishing sums in the black market.      

The saddest part of this tragic drama is that the focus of the tiger killers has now shifted to Corbett National Park, which was till now considered the best managed tiger reserve, and enjoyed a certain level of immunity from the poacher -- more because of its geographic layout than any human efficiency. But having drastically depleted the tiger population of Dudhwa & Ranthambore, the poachers have now turned towards the relatively healthier tiger population of Corbett Park.      

Recent reports in the media have placed the tiger deaths in Corbett at around five in less than a month, even as meetings were being held at the highest levels to mark the Year of the Tiger, and the 'experts' were congratulating themselves on the formation of some committee or the other to save the tiger. In one fell stroke, the tiger killers had brought to naught all that these committees stand for, and shattered the mythical impregnability of Corbett Tiger Reserve. This, more than anything else, sounds like the death knell.      

Much has already been written and said about the inevitability of the tiger's extinction from India, but it still doesn't seem enough to jerk us out of apathy. The recent tiger killings in Corbett, and a glance at hard statistics indicating both optimistic and pessimistic world population estimates, will surely make the reader understand that ten, or even a lesser number of years, are all that remain for the Indian tiger in the wild. The experts don't deny that most tiger census figures are educated guesses, and so it is for the reader to strike that delicate balance between the optimistic and pessimistic estimates of the tiger population.      

But whichever way we look at it, if the present downtrend is not arrested, the tiger will fade away into oblivion, and we would be left handling nothing but statistics of what is probably the greatest Indian heritage.