Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tiger Conservation - A Number Game

Tigers are illusive animals and amazingly apt at being unseen even whence in vicinity. Their habitat preference aids in camouflage, an art which they have mastered anyway, and a structure along with enchanting colour patterns makes the big cats practically invisible wherever they live.

The predator can sit or stay still for an amazing long period, crouch low in small tufts of grass and walk silently unheard, even whence in proximity. It has an amazing ability to freeze and stay that way for an exasperating time span. The animal can virtually vanish at will from human reckoning.   

I believe many tigers complete their life cycle and die without being seen or being recorded by the tiger counting mechanism or the field personnel. This also assures that the predators occupy wider tiger landscape then we assume. The ghost of the darkness is an apt way to describe the magnificent beast for it is a nocturnal animal made so by necessity and to some extent by massive human intrusion everywhere they survive.        

In democracies life forms that vote are the privileged ones, and hence others are always endangered or facing extinction eternally. Situation is not good in countries that are governed by autocratic or dogmatic beliefs as well. In fact the tertiary predator is nowhere safe.      

Counting The Cat 

Earlier the cats in India and Russia were counted using only the pug mark method. This resulted in greatly exaggerated figures leading to a chancy complacency that was disastrous for conservation. With the advent of more scientific methods like camera trapping and DNA analysis we are coming to more accurate figures plus and minus a few. This development has also led to discovery of tigers elsewhere outside the protected areas in previously undocumented tiger landscape. But do these exciting finds assure that the population in India is rising? 

Well Yes & No

Tiger population is well managed in highly protected reserves it is rising there thanks to the efficiency of the staff, wild life managers and the political will prevalent generously to say so. On the other hand there may be many habitats where the animal is still being persecuted leading to reduction in numbers. Man animal conflict, hunting, poaching are still the factors instrumental in the critical status of the big cat. And yes, I have not forgotten the tremendous biotic and abiotic stress that the modern man is imposing. 

Crown cover of most of the landscapes may be receding drastically hence habitat destruction is an ever going disaster in a heavily populated country like India. Dams, mines and infrastructure projects are never going to see an end, hence the threat will prevail unchecked ever. 

With a virulent stress on development or rather unplanned rabid development that always takes place in haste to be repented at leisure.     

Tigress - Paul Diggins


A Nation hell bent under prioritise, the beleaguered cat has no place in the list.        

Whence we count the big cats we have only one species in mind this is a gross miscalculation. There may be no more than fifty South China tigers in the wild as per reports. The tigers have gone virtually extinct in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. We have lost the Bali tiger in Indonesia, the Caspian and  the Javan. 

Around three hundred Siberian tigers survive in a small pocket, precariously under severe threat from poachers. India is the country which is home to Bengal tiger with the largest number standing at more than half the global population. This species also survives in Nepal, Burma and Bangladesh. The last figures registered an appreciable growth of around thirty percent lets see if it stays that way. The country is doing all that is possible to protect the carnivore in its protected areas.           

The drastic reduction in the habitat is the primary reason for the sad numbers of the animal almost everywhere,  and this threat does not seem to be mitigating. Of the roughly seven percent of the habitat left, the threat of denudation, wood logging and human pressure looms large. The animal needs vast space to survive. Are we willing to accord that do we have a policy which would enable increase the inviolate space badly required?

The populist governance prevailing in the country is incapable of doing this, containment will linger. The hopeless case of tiger corridors is evident so very much. This is due to lack of political courage. We have rapaciously taken over all the land for our cause without generously allocating some for other life forms. There seems to be no hope regarding this, and it seems to be wishful thinking and may seem ludicrous to some.       

The largest and single most threat that looms precariously is the use of tiger parts in Chinese systems of medicine and not to forget the culinary preferences. There seems to be no encouragement that the CITES convention would ever be followed there.      

Albeit the picture seems like doomsday prediction there is hope for the tiger at least in India. All it needs is stringent protection, political will and apt management. We must not forget laws that govern illegal practices regarding wildlife...these need a paradigm change if poachers and hunters have to be discouraged effectively.     

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tiger Deaths - A Real Conundrum

In a short span of time four tigers died at Shahdol District in MP, one each in Corbett National Park in UK and Sanjay Dubri in Chhattisgarh. A tiger was electrocuted near Pench National Park, a tiger was found dead near Sehore....the story goes on. Though more tiger inhabited area should be taken under the net of protection on many instance the process has laggard behind due to reasons unknown.

If any process in this country has to gather pace, that has to be tiger conservation measures. It seems conservation bodies at National and local level are obsessed with tourism rather than finding solutions that could save the big cats in India.    

It no longer surprises whence the tabloids speak of death of the big cats including the leopard. Though not all deaths have a alarming reason many die of one. The ongoing threat is of course electrocution. But poaching and poisoning goes on hand in hand. 

Poisoning is preventable as they do so at Kanha National Park by quickly shifting the carcass out of reach of the predator. This must be done elsewhere too but not everywhere especially in an around our reserve forests. Fortunately not many tigers inhabit our reserve forests as their number has drastically gone down and they are found only in and around the protected areas or the tiger reserves.  

What is missed out by the above factors is taken care of by the railways and road accidents. In case of leopards which venture too close to human habitations they are killed by the marauding mobs and over zealous hunters often in connivance with local politicians.  Neither is the reporting by local press constructive and it is seldom brought to notice about human intrusion in the land of wild denizens. We are urbanising at a fast pace too fast as a matter of fact and bringing to nought the habitats that come on the way. The animals suffer in mute silence as they watch their land being taken away. 

Power play does not affect only the downtrodden humans it is vicious in case of wild animals. Some politicians and local hunters indulge in hunting misusing their powers. Corrupt official from the forests and other departments are often too eager for a shoot out. 

Some members of hunter gatherer tribal communities are a persistent threat to wild animals, and are active in feeding the illegal wildlife trade. Die hard poacher sitting at the helm of the network rarely face penal action, thanks to legal loop holes and an indolent judicial system which drags the cases so long that justice virtually has no meaning.            

The threat to our tigers is real the rising numbers not withstanding. Multi pronged assaults can dip the figures dangerously there is no room for complacency. What is required is a concerted efforts to save the beleaguered animal not just physical protection, proactive policies are the need of the hour. Policing, habitat management, disease prevention and effective translocation of warring tigers wherever population is in plus category.                    

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Case of Missing Tigers of Kanha

The majestic bulk was moving straight towards us, a male tiger heading straight at you can be a chilling experience and if you are a novice it can be frightening. The tiger came close to us displaying its grace and beauty in the breaking light of the rising son.    

This was my first sight of the "red eye" a tiger so named because of a red blotch in his eyelids. Massive but gracefully built the big cat was literally gliding on the soft sand of the jungle road. We kept reversing for a long distance mesmerised by the spectacle that was looming straight at us. The male was busy scent marking and ignored us completely just keeping a slant eye to gauge our proximity. We were at a safe distance reversing all the time till eventually he disappeared on into to the bushes adjacent to the  Sulkum River. He was gone in a flip leaving us breathless and completely amazed it happened too quickly for us regain our composure instantly.    
Red Eye - Paul Fear

This male became the talk of Kanha and began to cover a large territory. His ultimate doom was Munna - who is still alive - whom he could not over power. In a tussle, which in reality was a roaring match he had backed out and left the space forever. Red Eye was seen in other territories and sired as well, but kept away from Munna. After some time he was never seen. he disappeared as mysteriously as he had surfaced. Many speculations where raised. 

Another legendary male of Kanha was Kankata who maintained territory besides that of Munna but never challenged. I had seen him in a family grouping with female and two cubs nearing 7/8 months. After that sighting, he was often seen and was believed to have sired cubs with a female in Kisli Zone. There were rumours of his disposition health wise but was seen often. He too disappeared completely and was never seen again. Many other big cats have made an about turn from the tourism zone much to the surprise of the guides, naturalists and regular visitors. This disappearance have shrouded the reserve in a mysterious veil of doubt.  

Albeit the usual conclusion is change of territory but this is doubtful. Why would big cats firmly entrenched in a a perfect habitat leave it all of a sudden. This especially whence they know that the cubs they have sired will be put to death by the overtaking male.            
Kankata - Doornik 

Translocation is another possibility but certainly those in charge would know that if they trans-locate a dominant male his cubs will surely be killed. 

The third possibility is of poaching because now and then a dead tiger surfaces which has died under mysterious circumstances or electrocuted. 

Take over or expansion of a territory is a regular activity of dominant males but the the loser is usually pushed to being a subordinate or left in command of lesser ground. The actual cause is difficult to ascertain as the non tourism area is out of bounds to all expect the administeration.