A tiger enjoys a water bath on a hot summer afternoon, April 27. (Press Trust of India)

@Siliconeer #Siliconeer #India #UttarPradesh #YogiAdityanath #BJP #Uttarakhand #Tiger #SavetheTiger #CorbettTigerReserve #TigerPoachinginIndia #MansinghdeoWildlifeSanctuary #PenchTigerReserve #NaMo – Tiger poaching has again been detected in the Uttarakhand forests of North India driving the Forest Minister Harak Singh Rawat to order an inquiry, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.

The matter pertains to the seizure of five tiger skins and 130 kg tiger bones belonging to Corbett Tiger Reserve in March last year.

Initially the Minister instituted tiger monitoring to be conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to verify all about tigers gone missing or killed in more than one year.

The member of the State Wildlife Board, Rajiv Mehta came out with a report in which all fingers pointed to the neglect of top wildlife officials and also the involvement of Chief Wildlife Warden D.V.S. Khati, the then Corbett director Samir Sinha and head of anti-poaching cell Dhananjai Mohan – and demanded transfer of these officials for an impartial probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

This allegation was based on testimony of primary accused and member of Bawaria gang Ramchander who confirmed killing 20-25 tigers in Corbett territory in last three years.

It is a sad state of affairs since the government provides billions of rupees worth of funds to the wildlife department for intelligence and tiger conservation, and various other schemes, and yet wildlife is poached blatantly throughout this state that has witnessed the maximum seizures made by the police recently.

As per an inquiry under RTI Act from police department, it was found that 26 leopards and seven tigers were poached in 2015 and since January of 2017 alone, around 30 leopard skins and bile pods of several black bears have been recovered in the state.

Matters are grave not just in Corbett but in all reserves as the country has lost 32 tigers in the past three months itself and some days back one more tigress was found dead, though not due to poaching, in Saleghat range of Mansinghdeo Wildlife Sanctuary, now part of the Pench Tiger reserve.

This was the fourth tiger death in Pench since January.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) notes that of the 32 tiger deaths, 18 were recorded inside tiger reserves or sanctuaries while the rest are from outside the park areas, 7 were due to poaching.

In 2017 tally, Karnataka that has the highest number of tigers lost 10 tigers followed by Uttarakhand (7), Madhya Pradesh or MP (6), Maharashtra (4) and Assam (3).

In 2016 there were a total of 99 tiger deaths.

According to the last tiger census conducted in January 2015, tiger numbers in MP had increased from 257 in 2010 to 308 in 2015.

However since January 2015, 51 tigers have died in MP.

Tigers and leopards are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1986.

A study by the Wildlife Protection Survey of India (WPSI) stated that the state of Maharashtra lost 291 leopards and 84 tigers between 2010 and 2017, with poachers killing 159, along with the killing of six sloth bears.

Of the big cats that were killed, 134 were leopards and 25 were tigers, accounting for 42% of the deaths.

In 2017 there were 17 leopard deaths of which 7 were due to poaching.

WPSI mentions that along with animals’ plight, poaching, increase in construction work, especially corridors through wildlife areas, rise in road accidents are adding more deaths.

Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) states that there has been a crackdown on the poaching nexus but villagers living near protected forest areas set up snares for deer and wild boar and tigers and leopards preying on these animals fall prey to these snares.

Along with heavy legal punishments, WCCB, forest department and NGOs have been conducting awareness drives and workshops to sensitise villagers to protect wildlife.

India’s nodal tiger authority, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NCTA) has ordered all 17 tiger range states not to confer forest rights to any tribal or forest dwelling communities in critical tiger habitats.

In its circular it states, “In absence (of) guidelines for notification of critical wildlife habitats, no rights shall be conferred in Critical Tiger Habitats which is duly notified under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.”

In plain language critical tiger habitats are to be made totally inviolate forest areas where no one will ever enjoy any rights.

This order has come in for heavy criticism from Tribal Welfare Organizations and senior Communist leaders of the country with Brinda Karat of Communist Party of India (Marxist) terming it “illegal” and has written to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “ensure speedy withdrawal of this illegal order” as provisions of the Forest Rights Act (FRA 2006) rules that forest dwellers, including scheduled tribes, get their rights over forest land and non-timber forest produce, have been flouted.

In her view none of the authorities, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the NCTA have any jurisdiction over the implementation of FRA and thus cannot make an exception of tribal rights in areas which are designated as critical tiger habitats.

Many previous studies have shown that self sufficient tribals who have helped manage and preserve their ecosystems must be successfully partnered to leverage their native intelligence for conservation efforts.

A successful case is that of the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Kerala that serves as a sanctuary for nature as well as indigenous tribes who have been tasked with soldering the reserve, and so are those of Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh and Kaziranga National Park in Assam.

Talking of conservation, in the quest for tiger augmentation wild life experts and forest officials have mooted introduction of six big cats from Assam into Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal.

But this will have to accompany habitat improvement, prey augmentation and working with local stakeholders to minimize potential human-tiger conflicts.

The drop off of tigers will be in a phased manner after evaluating the response after introducing each one.

Thereafter every three years two more tigers will be brought in.

In the Corbett National Park in North India, four grown up tigers are awaiting relocation to Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand that already has 15 felines.

Some years back when tigers had totally disappeared in Sariska in Rajasthan, tigers had to be translocated to fill the reserve.

In this big fight to preserve the big remarkable cats a real vision of forests and wildlife need to be promoted in which they along with their entire habitat will be preserved with the synergies of the tribal, new techniques and government facilitation.