|indians want to believe that it is still possible to save wild tigers|
29 Sep 2007 (Times of India)
A blueprint to create inviolate critical wildlife habitats (CWHs) across the country has been finalised by the environment and forests ministry. Unlike the existing protected areas - national parks and sanctuaries - the ministry has suggested a set of guidelines based on scientific criteria to establish the habitats.
This is an important step to provide an exclusive space to wildlife when the Forest Rights Act gets operationalised. Under the Act, which is meant to formally recognise rights of forest dwellers, only areas declared as CWHs can be granted inviolate status - sans human presence. Even existing protected areas will have to be re-evaluated under these norms to declare them inviolate if they fall within the set criteria.
Priority has been given to tiger-bearing forests. Within 30 days of the notification of guidelines and formation of state level committees, all regions with a breeding tiger density would be demarcated. The ministry, in consultation with chief wildlife wardens and experts at Wildlife Institute of India, has suggested that for every 20 breeding tigresses, an area of 800-1,000 sq km be maintained as inviolate.
This, the ministry believes, would help maintain an overall population of 70-100 tigers maintainable in the patch along with surrounding buffer areas (where multiple land use is allowed with some regulation on industrial and other activities). Where such large areas cannot be declared inviolate, the attempt shall be to connect small CWHs with bigger ones by blocking connecting land corridors and declaring them inviolate as well. This will ensure the genetic viability and robustness of smaller tiger populations. Only in exceptional cases - where there is not sufficient land to declare as inviolate - shall such inviolate areas be maintained in isolation.
At present, there are 28 tiger reserves (with another eight proposed) and 604 national parks and sanctuaries covering about 24% of the forest area and 4.74% of the total geographic area of the country.
For non-tiger bearing parks and sanctuaries, the ecological space required by other key species - top meat eaters, large-sized herbivores, economically important species, endangered species or migratory animals - will be used to measure how much space should be declared as inviolate.
The CWHs for tigers will be identified by a central committee comprising chief wildlife wardens of states concerned, the director and two scientists of the wildlife institute, field directors of existing tiger reserves, representative of the tribal affairs ministry, a wildlife scientist familiar with the area and the member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
THE HINDU. October 14th.
THE SHASHI THAROOR COLUMN
There is hope for the tiger yet
Thanks to the meticulous efforts of Dr. Ullas Karanth, tigers in Asia may yet get a fresh lease of life.
In two days’ time, in Washington DC, an unsung Indian will receive one of the world’s most prestigious awards. On Tuesday, October 16, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) will give Dr. K. Ullas Karanth of Bangalore its J. Paul Getty Award for C onservation Leadership for the year 2007. Each year the Getty Award recognises a world leader in conservation — last year’s recipient was King Jigme Singhye Wangchuck of Bhutan.
Ullas Karanth, who is Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s India Programme, was recognised for his pioneering leadership as a conservation scientist. So Vishwanathan Anand is not the only world champion India can lay claim to this month. But Ullas Karanth’s triumph, unlike Anand’s, has hardly received any attention in our country, because his life has been dedicated to a precious national resource which has been suffering from neglect and may be threatened with extinction — the Indian tiger.
The vexed debate about the condition of tigers in our country has been compounded by reports that the official figures for India’s tiger population may be seriously exaggerated. The conservationist, Valmik Thapar estimates there are fewer than 1,300 tigers left in our country; even the most optimistic do not place the estimate higher than 3,700. A century ago, there were at least 40,000 in the wild, whereas today we have 28 tiger reserves — one of which, Sariska in Rajasthan, has achieved the dubious distinction of having no tigers left at all. Ullas Karanth’s great contribution has been in the adoption of scientific rigour in the work of tiger conservation. A mechanical engineer turned farmer who went on to study wildlife biology and to cut his methodological teeth on the ground in Nagarahole, Karanth brought in highly sophisticated methods of tiger measurement to the previously erratic process of conducting tiger censuses by counting pugmarks. He enjoys a huge reputation across the globe as one of the world’s most eminent conservation scientists. It is only in India that his achievements remain largely unrecognised.
Dr. Karanth, whom I have recently got to know, probably would not care. Though he is the author of several books on tigers — notably the delightfully readable The Way of the Tiger — recognition matters less to him than the concrete contributions he has made to the conservation of Indian elephants and tigers. These include his pioneering work in the creation of three wildlife protected areas in the Western Ghats; his thoughtful and innovative efforts to promote the voluntary resettlement of local people from tiger habitats in ways that benefit both people and wildlife; and his focus on scientific methods of monitoring and measuring wildlife, especially tigers. “Being science-based,” Karanth says, “means constant self-criticism, continuous monitoring of results and merciless rejection of failed conservation models.”
Room for optimism
Thanks to Ullas Karanth and his colleagues, there may be some good news for Indian tigers. The Wildlife Conservation Society, strenghtened by an injection of funds and entrepreneurial energy from a dynamic New York businessman, Michael Cline, has launched a new initiative across Asia confidently called “Tigers Forever”. The lessons learned by Karanth and others are manifest in the Tigers Forever strategy: scientifically monitor the tiger population and its sources of prey, enhance wildlife habitats, protect human interests by generous land acquisition and voluntary resettlement programmes so that people and tigers do not have to compete in the same space, face up to hunting and forest-product issues, educate local communities and push for enlightened national and local policy changes. While the approach is rooted in meeting the ecological needs of the tiger, Karanth and WCS understand that in a country like India, you can only protect tigers by an approach that takes into account the demands that human beings make on Mother Nature. The pressure on the tiger’s habitat is nowhere greater than in India, where tigers have lost 93 per cent of their historic range and only 10 per cent of the country is covered by natural forest.
There has to be strict protection against hunting, encouragement of adequate numbers of prey animals to keep tigers interested (and nourished), and minimising of the potential for conflict with humans by finding forest-dwellers alternative means of livelihood in resettlement areas. This isn’t just theory; all of this has been tried and tested by Ullas Karanth and WCS in India and elsewhere, and proven to work.
There is a lot of doom and gloom about these days about the future of the tiger, with Valmik Thapar publicly writing the animal’s obituary in India. The Tigers Forever project, however, is refreshingly positive: it aims not just to preserve the tiger but to increase tiger populations by 50 per cent across its project sites. Ullas Karanth’s 10-year study (1991-2000) in Nagarahole has demonstrated that this is not an unrealistic objective: there has been a 400 per cent increase in tigers there over the last two decades.
Far better to go the Tigers Forever route than promote such bizarre and commercially self-serving schemes as “tiger farming”, publicised in the pages of The Hindu not long ago on the basis of a conference run by Chinese officials backed by neo-con free-market ideologues. It is possible to develop naturally viable tiger populations co-existing, rather than competing, with local communities nearby.
The Getty award also aims to help develop conservation leadership for tomorrow. The award’s cash prize of $2,00,000 will be used to establish graduate fellowships named in honour of Dr. Karanth and J. Paul Getty in conservation-related fields at an institution of higher learning chosen by the winner. If the tiger population of India is to mount past 5,000 ever again, it may be due one day to the efforts of a Karanth-Getty scholar yet to be named, who might be reading this article today. Columnists, unlike tigers, live in hope.