Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Few tigers more

The tiger estimation report 2010 by the ministry of forest and environment released recently cites an increase in tiger population by 200 + tigers. This report was released by MOEF in Bhopal recently and attended by top bureaucrats and who is who in nature conservation. It was heartening see there a lady ( Belinda Wright) who has sacrificed her whole life in favor of the endangered species and perhaps some who could speak.       

What is evident that under Hon Minister Jairam there has been new initiative taken. There is very little doubt that he is a friend of nature as whole in the country. The minister exhibits energetic and palpable  commitment to nature conservation and environment protection in India. But is he is as enamored by the economic, political and democratic urgency as anybody? Time will tell.

The report albeit does not create any euphoria in our minds should not. The ground situation remains the same perhaps worsened by impetus on rabid economic growth. The animal remains endangered, still and ironically the leopard is in the worst case scenario as tiger already is. Let us give credit if the numbers have really increased in spite of the fact that there is still no credibility in the process - camera trap or whatever. But experienced field biologists should always be relied upon.

If the numbers have really increased and auger further increase than it is a heartening news. What it implies is that we have learned to govern ourselves and our Nation better. The debacle at Sariska and Panna have created doubt in our governance itself. If right in the control of highly paid and privileged administrative system a population of tiger can be wiped out..and fact to be discovered much later in a farcical is nothing but humoring ourselves in front of the whole World..what more.

For a laymen who does not understand political maneuvering, administrative lethargy, corruption and inability, it is difficult to understand the plight of the tiger and hence the whole environment. In my years of wandering in the wild I have yet to see the top brass actively engaged in the field, though there are few exceptions. But few exceptions do not make a tiger.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tiger Safari - A holistic experience

Tiger tourism is a boon to nature conservation. It introduces, teaches and instills in mind the salient principles of conservation. It brings forth to surface that we share this Earth with many life forms and that we are all linked in a short of chain. It is like a family... what happens when the family is broken? You know that well... you can surmise how fragile an ecosystem is. Ecosystems are what constitute the habitat which are suitable grounds of survival of amazingly vast biodiversity. 

The tiger reserves should not be seen as tourism centers.  But rather tourism should be seen as  show case of conservation efforts, their success or failure. Tourist are the best sentinels of our natural heritage since they can express concerns which other life forms of the reserves cannot. Tourism benefits if conducted properly, hence rules and regulations of preserves should be followed thoroughly.  To enjoy the nature that we have inherited is to learn to value and conserve it.     

Visiting such natural heavens gives one an immense thrill especially if you come across magnificent species like tiger, leopard, swamp deer, wild dog, Indian gaur or bison and so on. You can come across an action thriller - tiger on hunt, wild dogs chasing prey, raptor pouncing on a hare....Good Luck.  

You can further heighten your pleasure by taking interest in birds - all it requires is a good pair of binoculars and books on birds. Dr. Salim Ali's book of Indian birds is good for the beginners. These parks are home to interesting species of birds some rare and enchanting. 

You should also take interest in the flora of the reserves and learn about the different forest types. Some of the local guides are very knowledgeable about the vegetation. You should enjoy the fresh air and lovely landscapes that surround you. the forests can be incredibly silent experience peace and tranquility.

Trekking Tigers 

Everyone wishes to see the tiger and why not? It is nature's most wonderful creation, top predator and magnificent. It is one of the most charismatic and beautiful animal seen in the wild.  It is very difficult to track tigers and you need lot of luck. 

Listen to the sounds of the forests they are the best indicator of the predators presence. Keep a look down on jungle road for pug marks ...they tell you a lot. Keep and eye on the deer and other animals they indicate tiger's presence by their behavior. Alarm cries are very good sign of a predator in neighbor hood.

Over all it not just the tiger sighting enjoy nature as whole. You will feel contented even if you do not come across a tiger. Making it a learning experience that is what wild safari is meant to be.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why big cats kill humans in India ?

Man eating by big cats is not a new phenomenon, somewhere down below man could have been in the food chain. But as the species (homo sapiens) evolved into a more intelligent form they removed themselves from the instinctive arena.

The personae of modern man is indeed intimidating - especially the upright posture which animals always perceive as larger. The gregarious behavior of humans living near tigers could be another reason. Or long back humans must have succeeded in proving themselves as superior beings in conflicts. Then series of senseless brutality by hunters did the rest. The destructive weapons/guns became an object of fear which passed on to the coming generations instinctively.

The tiger and leopard finds man as naturally threatening. As tertiary carnivores, tigers and leopards have limited energy and always go for larger kills that can be obtained easily. Another factor is the mass to energy spent is not always favorable, with average weight of rural malnourished women in India being 50 to sixty KG or perhaps much less. Women wander deeper into the forests in search of fire wood and minor produce.E.g. Corbett.

Throughout evolution genetic coding changes and the tiger instinct changed too. Hence somewhere along, the instinct made tigers/leopards distance themselves from humans. But instances of man eating continue, though the initial attack is in self defense out of sheer fright and surprise.  Extreme hunger due to inability to kill prey also induces tiger to kill anything that comes easily including wandering humans. 

Most of the man eating cases subsequently turn into premeditated attacks. By stealth and surprise is how the tiger hunts - so does the leopard. But the latter can be more damaging since it lives near the confines of villages.  

I do not believe that man eating is an aberrant behavior always. This can happen in case of drastic reduction in prey base, the animal than looks for alternative food. Young animals rarely turn man eaters by intent.  In old/injured animals man killing may be need based as often it is in the case of cattle lifters. The bold term I find as pressing further ignominy on the beleaguered animal since fact is the cattle are intruders.  Tigers never eat stones as it is not their food, so why would they eat humans if we do not constitute as food?

Humans and big cats often came in close proximity whence forests were widespread. Due to large forest cover the spacing mechanism kept humans and big cats apart most of the time. But this does not work anymore. The forests are scarce and you have humans intruding everywhere. Accidental killing and territorial clash (breeding females) do the rest of the damage. Due to political urgency it is the animal that suffers since no alternative is provided in time. Corbett is prime example of women being killed by tigers.the recent news of another kill in Sunderkhal in Corbett is troubling. Which tiger did they eliminate? What are they doing there?

Whenever I have encountered a tiger, I have seen its stress level rise out of fear. Though there have been sudden aggressive charge often, but the distance is maintained. This is a protective instinct that make big cats withdraw. Their genetic coding passed on from generations induces fear of  man naturally thanks to past experience - a natural protective mechanism.   

The tigers and leopards always move away from man as I have experienced except whence on some purpose. There is no such thing as greater degree of acclimatization with man. Even in remote depth of forests where tigers rarely come across man their behavior is more or less the same. By instinct they shy away from man. But I have heard many times of tigers sitting for long, blocking the roads near forests in spite of the fact they were not conditioned as in tiger reserves (?). When on work the animal ignores man completely in cases like territorial marking and on search of female. This applies to non conditioned tigers as well. Being nocturnal it is always less seen.

The problem with human society is that we have not learned to treat other life forms as equal. The best we treat them is as pariah or vermin an excuse to ravage their home land. Mining in India is the worst scourge followed by carcinogenic industries -  all a short term solution for burgeoning unskilled populace. Populace surviving on infertile soils and denuded forests.          

Amazing India will cease to stress its point the way we are destroying natural lands in pursuit of short term economic gains. Everywhere forests and other remaining habitats are being destroyed recklessly or at unseen pace. It is humans first!

Jago re India Jago re!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wolf in Seoni Hills - Pench Tiger Reserve

Extremely rare due to persecution everywhere the wolf in India is still considered as vermin. The animal is a livestock killer by circumstances. The wolf in India is an open country scrub animal. It is less found in dense habitats. Most of the protected areas as tiger reserves cover only the forests, the open scrub country in the periphery is neglected. This brings the animal in direct competition/conflict with live stock, dogs and their keepers. There are many myths around the animal which create an impression of being dangerous and a bad omen.     

Indian Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) is an extremely endangered carnivore. There are about two to three thousand wolves in the country. The animal survives in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharastra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka. It is known by local name in each state. There have been cases of attack on young children the reason being loss of prey base. Most of the attack has taken place in UP and Bihar where habitat damage has been extensive. 

In MP the carnivore is rare and survives in few areas.  It is found in Pench Tiger Reserve in the periphery. Its known habitat in Kanha was Moccha where a number of resorts flourish now. I have not seen the animal there since a long time. The animal is subject to prosecution everywhere, and hence the animal migrates locally in case of disturbance.     

I have seen the animal in Pench two years back. This was the time my friends hotel in Pench was being built. The luxury accommodation was some distance away from Khawasa and we could see the pack of four on the way. They are not seen anymore but I hope they have shifted habitat and not killed.

Well known Pench in Seoni Hills is an excellent tiger habitat. It is home large diversity of flora and fauna. It is a remarkable birding destination as well. Known as Kipling Country after Rudyard Kipling who penned the World famous "Jungle Book" which portrayed the exploits of the wolf child Mowgli. Mowgli is no more and so would be the wolf pack if conservation measure are not taken immediately. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Will it? or Will not?

It is an animal with head under guillotine blade. And the question asked is, will it or will it not become extinct? In fact the situation is so precarious that there is no surety as to what the next population count will reveal. The animal once roamed in large numbers as the King of forests now lives as a pet cat in protected areas.  

This year I saw few tigers on birding trips in Corbett and Kanha National Parks. But there was hardly any joy or thrill the sighting generated remorse and lot of thinking.  For it is now a possibility that coming generations may not see this magnificent animal in the wild.. The burgeoning humanity and political wranglings have made the protected area insecure. 

One visit to Kanha and Corbett periphery will give you and idea of what I am trying to confer through my blog. In seventies a visit to Kanha would have been an experience sans humanity around it. There were few small tribal villages but not the urbanity you see today. Though land had been opened up there were present pockets of pristine forests which made your journey towards the park an enchanting experience. 

Tourism is good for conservation but it certainly needs a looking into. This kind of congregation should certainly be reduced around all parks. If it is urgent to relocate tribal villages from within the confines of the Buffer and core zones than it is also imperative to relocate budding establishments and private houses a respectable distance away. The latter may not happen since it is impractical keeping the costs in mind. But henceforth further construction should be stopped immediately. They new construction should be pushed back far way at least a radius of ten km from any ecosystem taking into account that open scrub constitutes an ecosystem for hyena, wolf, Nilgai and other open country animals.

Managing such large human populations is not easy but then we have usurped so much area that constitutes natural home for other life forms. And the savage ingress goes on... Can we not increase some more area wherever possible and reduce the interference of this destructive species Homo erectus? 

In cities land has been taken over by the Government in order to build wider and better road networks. A due consideration has been forwarded. Can we not find solution for villages around areas of natural heritage. Such that relocation succeeds and is permanent. But the local politics does not understand all this. Many are not capable of understanding or appreciating natural phenomenons. For most such places are more of an irritant a challenge to their management capabilities. The worst - Vote politics.

The buffer zones are no more secure from poachers and wood loggers then they were before. Although it is impossible to guard such a vast area but there should be some mechanism in place. There was lot of controversy in Kanha regarding discovery of deadly metal traps or snares within the core. Although by all means Kanha is one of the best managed parks in India. But than we thought nearly the same of Sariska and Panna - look what happened.

The beat guards and foresters are helpless whence confronted by goons or organized gangs of poachers. Some of them are in league with poachers. Many wrong doers may have political shelter or be powerful enough themselves. I keep on reading that very few people have been convicted in wildlife crimes.  Why? The crimes are rampant the media informs us.