If two tiger reserves — Panna in MP and Sariska in Rajasthan — are now bereft of tigers, seven others may well follow in their footsteps if urgent measures are not taken. The number of tigers in all seven is fast depleting.
Environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh has sounded a ‘Save Tiger’ alert for the Buxa reserve in West Bengal, Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh, Manas in Assam, Valmiki in Bihar, Simlipal in Orissa, Indravati in Chhattisgarh and Palamu in Jharkhand.
“The tiger population in these reserves is going down and the protection measures are poor,” he said while addressing field directors of 37 tiger reserves in Sariska on Friday. “Unless we take immediate steps, we’ll lose the tigers in these reserves.”
The Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is the most common subspecies of tiger, found primarily in India and Bangladesh. In 2006, at the time of the last estimate, India’s tiger population was 1,411. Since then, about 100 tigers have died because of poaching, natural reasons and man-animal conflict.
“In the past few months, not one of the 12 Royal Bengal Tigers believed to be in Buxa, in Jalpaiguri district, has been spotted,” said Yogendra Jhala of the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India.
The indicators from the other six reserves are also alarming.
n Manas had 40 tigers in 2006. But large-scale deforestation has made the big cat easy meat for poachers. Four deaths have already been reported in 2009.
n In Valmiki, the tiger count was estimated at 10 in 2006. This year, poachers from Nepal have been active in the reserve. Conservation is poor.
n In Simplipal, with an estimated 40 tigers in 2006, the tiger population density is shrinking. In 2008-09, it had reduced to two tigers per 100 sq km from the ideal two per 10 sq km. Poachers have been caught on camera killing prey.
n In Indravati, no tiger estimate has been carried out in nine years. At last count, in 2000, the reserve recorded a population of over 100 tigers. The fear is that the Naxalites could be killing tigers to raise funds.
n Owing to the Naxalite menace, no tiger count was carried out in Palamu in 2006. Poacher presence is rampant in the vicinity of the reserve.
n In Namdapha, the tiger estimate was 12 in 2006. No big cat has been spotted in the core area in the past 12 months.
The situation is grim, says P.K. Sen, former director, Project Tiger, the nodal body for tiger reserves.
“Thirty per cent of the reserves are in a shambles. The habitat is good but tigers are dying because of a lack of measures to protect them from poaching.”
The solution, Sen says, is greater coordination between the Centre and the states to counter poaching.