Saving Tigers In St Petersburg?
December 5, 2010: Even as governments, conservationists, scientists, economists converged in St Petersburg for a Global Tiger Summit last week in an ambitious plan to ‘reverse the decline and double tiger numbers’; on the ground, the star of the show-the tiger was otherwise engaged, in a particularly embittered battle.
Far away from the cushioned luxury of St Petersburg in a remote corner of the Morigaon district of Assam a young male tiger was shot dead by the police. The tiger had ‘strayed’ from its forest, the Orang National Park, and into human territory. It was hiding in a paddy field when the woman stumbled on the crouching tiger and the panicked cat lashed out killing the woman. A terrorised, enraged crowd gathered, turned on the tiger, who hit back killing a policeman. It was shot dead.
This is not an isolated case. You could go back a little in time, and move westward to Chatiabalrampur, a village near Shahjahanpur where irate villagers gheraoed—and almost burnt –forest jeeps, demanding the death of the tiger. Six people had been killed over the past month in the forests around Pillibhit and Shahjahanpur. The tiger was captured, and is serving time in the Lucknow zoo.
Conflict—the lethal face-off between Homo sapiens and Panthera tigris is a no-win situation, taking a toll on both man and beast. We are seeing fatal face-offs all across tiger habitats be it in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, UP or Uttarakhand. This is the reality not just in India, but across all range countries. I have just received a photograph from Riau, Sumatra, that you don’t want to see: Of a tiger trussed up, and slung across a bike-as dead as a dodo. He had a mangled leg, probably was entrenched in a steel trap. He may have broken free, but unable to hunt, it had killed a human. The tiger was trapped by officials, and died subsequently most likely, from stress and injury. Notably, this occurred in the buffer of a biosphere reserve that has been heavily encroached.
Conflict is rooted in habitat loss and fragmentation: Shrinking, patchwork forests push tiger into human dominated landscapes, and into deadly confrontation. The impact of conflict goes beyond the immediate loss of life and livelihood (in the case of cattle killing). It leads to loss of support for the tiger and fuels poaching. What we need is to take on board the gravity of the situation.
We really don’t need to sit in Petersburg to solve the problem in Morigaon or Sumatra or in the Sundarbans spread across both India and Bangladesh or elsewhere for that matter. The mantra to save tigers is simple: An inviolate habitat, sufficient prey and strict protection.
We need a sound policy and strategy to deal with conflict. We need to have constant dialogue with local communities, there must be a well- equipped and trained Flying Squads to deal with such crisis situations, not knee jerk reactions.
Core tiger habitats must be sacrosanct—and not crisscrossed and cut with highways and irrigation colonies—so that tigers can breed. Tiger reserves must have buffers, not mines and power plants; tiger corridors must be notified and accorded some protection—its rudimentary if we are to address conflict.
There was another tragedy occurred in the same week: A tiger skull was seized near Tadoba Tiger Reserve. Yet another tiger slaughtered to feed the insatiable demand for its bones, a pointer to our failure to contain the other big threat to tigers: Poaching.
Do we really protect our tigers? You be the judge: Insufficient, unequipped, unpaid, underpaid, untrained frontline staff man tiger reserves. There is no accountability, nor is there support to those who work against odds to protect tigers. Barely one per cent get convicted for killing and selling tigers. We do not even pay the frontline staff in time, while we pour millions— $1.4 million—in a fancy tiger do, to grandly declare our intent, many times over, to save the tiger.
Maybe these summits serve some purpose. Awareness? Or perhaps in raising the profile of the tiger. Or is it to convince ourselves that we are doing our bit. Thing is, the party's over, and the tiger's still dying. To borrow a phrase from Steve Galster’s superbly written commentary on the summit, ‘Let’s not turn conservation into conversation.” Lets conserve, not converse.
Source: The Sunday Guardian.