Shifting pain in Ranthambhore

Posted by: Harsh Varma on

  First forest officials come up with a harebrained scheme. Then they go to absurd lengths to justify it. En route, conservationists are shown in poor light. And the future of the tiger gets dimmer.

This farce is being played out in Rajasthan to mobilise opinion against the sudden halt on tiger translocation from Ranthambhore to Sariska. A recent report in a compact Delhi-based daily has the foresters spewing venom on those who have detected scientific flaws in the shifting exercise.

The reason for putting the brakes on Sariska's repopulation drive is that the three tigers transported so far are siblings and, therefore, genetically incompatible. This, it is felt, can cause an acute inbreeding depression in future tiger populations at Sariska National Park.

Now, DNA samples of tigers have been sent to the Bangalore-based National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS). A genetic study is being conducted on the tigers of Ranthambhore as well as those already shifted to Sariska, and the resumption of the translocation hinges largely on its findings. The report is expected to be submitted in around three weeks.

Scientists who are conducting the study have said that inbreeding is best avoided. Furthermore, there is compelling evidence to suggest that inbreeding can have serious side-effects in such as less fertility, lower birth rate, high infant mortality and weak immunity. If an offspring gets two copies of a recessive gene, it can even die.

It is quite clear that no DNA analysis was conducted on the three tigers to ensure genetic dissimilarity despite this being mandated by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) protocol. But far from admitting their blunder, the state's forest department officials have unleashed a scathing counter-attack. Astoundingly, they have got some Wildlife Institute of India officials on board.

The foresters claim that the genetic incompatibility argument is just a smokescreen. According to them, the tiger shifting operation has been stopped to protect the business interests of a cartel comprising commercial entities and wildlife experts based in and around Ranthambhore National Park.

They have also made the ridiculous assertion that the delay in transporting tigers to Sariska has triggered their exodus from a full-to-the-brim Ranthambhore.

At a time when even hard-nosed corporates have turned tiger crusaders, forest officials remain of a blissfully different stripe.