The tiger has turned villain in a rhino realm called Kaziranga National Park. And it is not because locals hold any grouse against the carnivore.
At least 22 organizations directly or indirectly dependent on the rhino’s tourism appeal have sought the removal of the Project Tiger tag from Kaziranga. A World Heritage Site since 1985, the park was declared a tiger reserve in 2006.
These organizations converged at Bokakhat near Kaziranga on Saturday to launch a movement for restoring Kaziranga’s pre-Project Tiger status. Their argument: the tiger tag has invited restrictions that threaten to hurt their tourism dependent economy.
Kaziranga is home to some 2,200 one horned rhinos, almost 60% of the world population. But the tiger upstaged the herbivore last year after its number was found to be 32 per 100 sq km, the highest on earth.
The park authorities have since been under pressure to adhere to specifications laid down for a Project Tiger site. “We have accordingly declared 430 sq km (of the 860 sq km Kaziranga) as core area where entry of tourists would be restricted,” said the park’s field director Surajit Dutta.
Forest officials had earlier banned construction of new hotels besides cutting down on the number of jeeps – 250 at present – used for safaris inside the core area. Trouble started last week when it was rumored people living on the fringes would be relocated.
“The tiger has always been around, but Kaziranga is nothing without the rhino. This hype about the striped cat and this tiger tag is hurting us. We won’t let that happen,” said Punen Gogoi, president of the Kaziranga Jeep Association.
“There is too much at stake just for the tiger. We don’t want any project in Kaziranga that would harm the local people,” said Prahlad B. Barua, head of a local students’ organization, adding eviction of locals for the tiger would have ‘serious consequences’.
Green groups, insisting Kaziranga needs Project Tiger for more funding toward better upkeep have offered to broker a “way out of this mess”.