Lack of professional wildlife management by the state wildlife wing has made tigers vulnerable to poachers in Vidarbha. Nine tigers were killed in the buffer zone of the famous Tadoba Tiger Reserve since January 2011. Lack of funds both from the state and central government has made things worse.
A mutilated body of a full-grown tiger was found in the Tadoba buffer zone and another tiger was trapped by poachers and killed in the reserve last month. What's even more a matter of concern is that 13 big cats were killed within Tadoba's core areas in last 10 years. Of these, two tigers were killed in 2002-2003 - one of them through poisoning by poachers in Mohrali jungle while another was killed in 2011-12 in core area of reserves as per statistics available with the state wildlife wing.
Sources vehemently believe the presence of an inter-state poachers' gang in the area, who strike at will, in cahoots with the help of locals and forest personnel. Five persons arrested on Friday included three forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM) employees in connection with a poaching of a tiger whose mutilated body was found in a buffer zone of Tadoba last month.
Still, this did not alarm the state wildlife wing. It replaced Tadoba field VK Sinha with one Virendra Tiwari, who never worked in wildlife wing in his two decade service in the state forest department. Sinha too did not work a single day in wildlife wing in his forest career before joining as field director of Tadoba.
Situation is the same in neighbouring Pench tiger reserve in the state. A Ashraf is the field director of the reserve. He too has no previous experience for working either in wildlife sanctuary or tiger reserves. Moreover, none of these officers underwent training at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
The ongoing mess, particularly growing poaching cases in the Tadoba and other reserves are the result of inexperienced officers posted there who have hardly knowledge about the wildlife management, said a senior forest officer, who once worked in Tadoba.
Only Sunil Limaye, CCF Borivoli National Park, Mohan Karnard, CCF (Wildlife), Kolhapur and field director of Chadoli Tiger reserve and KP Singh, the field director of Melghat tiger reserves, are the ones who have either worked in wildlife sanctuaries/tiger reserves, or trained by the WII. "There are 20 seats for the wildlife training in WII. Not a single officer from Maharashtra attended the training," informed Kishore Rithe, member of National Board for Wildlife.
He cites inadequate staff as a reason why the government could not spare officers that compelled the institution to fill up the vacancies for the training from forest officers from Thailand, Bhutan and Bangladesh."Without proper training how can we expect appropriate wildlife management in sanctuaries and national parks?" he asked.
"At a meeting of the National Board for Wildlife, held on June 13 adopted a resolution that if the state fails to send officers for wildlife training in next three years, the Central fund for the conservation and protection of wildlife should be stopped," Rithe informed.
Lack of funds in another reason hindering scientific wildlife management, he claimed. "The state forest received just Rs 176 crore as plan budget in this financial year. Of this, wildlife wing gets hardly Rs 7-8 crore for its 36 wildlife sanctuaries and six national parks in Maharashtra. The wildlife wing also gets an additional 12 crore from Central government for conservation and protection of tiger reserves and sanctuaries," informed Shree Bhagwan.
"The budget is a pittance. We tried convincing the state finance secretary for increasing the plan budget for state wildlife, but to no avail," said Rithe, who also runs Satupuda Foundation, an NGO dedicated for the conservation and protection of wildlife in central India.
Under the scanner
Five persons, including three employees of forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra were arrested in connection with tiger poaching in Tadoba's buffer zone near Mul-Channdrapur road last month. The involvement of forest employees shocked wildlife lovers.
The poachers took away the head, paws and vital organs of the tiger, leaving behind a chopped tail and other body parts stuffed in gunny bags dumped on the road. The tiger was killed by way of electrocution and chopped the animal into pieces.
Maharashtra has around 50,650 sq kms forest cover which is 16.46% of the state's total geographical area. The state has 8,739 sq km of very dense forest while the area under moderately dense forest is 20,834 sq km and open forest in the state amounts to 21,077 sq kms. Maharashtra has six national parks and 36 wildlife sanctuaries. These protected forest areas constitute 2.5% of the state's total geographical area and 15% of the forest cover.
According to the 2010 census, the population of tiger has gone up from 103 in 2006 to 169 in 2010. Wildlife experts estimate that the tiger population has now touched 200 mark in the state and in Tadoba tiger reserve it is 69 from 53 as compared to the last census. Tadoba is probably the first tiger reserve in the country to spot as many as 32 tiger cubs since January 2010.
** There are four tiger projects in the state --- Melghat, Tadoba, Pench (all in Vidarbha) and Sahyadri (Western Maharashtra).
** Tadoba tiger reserve, one of the country's oldest national parks, was in the news recently for better wild cat conservation and birth of 32 tiger cubs in the area since January 2010. The reserve is spread over 623 sq kms of high hills and lush valleys covered with dense teak and bamboo forests. It is also the home to wild dogs, leopards, sloth bears, bison and hyenas and jungle cats, apart from 69 tigers.
** Melghat is located on southern offshoot of Satpura Hill Range in Amravati district, bordering Madhya Pradesh with an area of about 1673.93 sq kms. The forest is home to around 50 tigers and an equal number of leopards.
** In Pench tiger reserves, bordering Madhya Pradesh is located at a distance of 70 kms from Nagpur and home for around 20 tigers.
** Sahyadri, the new tiger project of the state was set up by including Chandoli Natonal Park and Koyana Wildlife Sanctuary of western Maharashtra. The reserves spread over an area of 741.22 sq kms. It houses an appreciable variety of bird and animal life, including nine tigers and 66 leopards.