Goa, synonymous with sun, sea and surf, may soon have a new attraction — tigers.
For the first time, cameras put up by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) caught a big cat strolling in the state’s Mhadei sanctuary last week. And then on Thursday, a tigress and two cubs were photographed.
The findings give hope that the state government will now declare the sanctuary, located in the ecologically-rich Western Ghats, a tiger reserve.
Such a proposal was made two years ago, when then environment minister Jairam Ramesh asked the Goa government to declare 500sqkm of the Mhadei region a tiger reserve after initial indications of the presence of tigers.
But the state government was reluctant, apparently due to opposition from the strong mining lobby. The Mhadei region — half of which has been damaged by mining — has rich ore reserves and notifying it as a tiger reserve would have meant no mining.
Officially, the government said there wasn't enough evidence of Mhadei being home to tigers on a permanent basis.
That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.
The camera traps were installed a few months ago, after reports of pugmarks and scat (tiger droppings). The main objective was not only to see if the area had any big cats but also to find out if they were just travelling in search for food after crossing over from neighbouring Karnataka and Maharashtra.
On Friday, Goa's chief wildlife warden, Richard D'Souza, said: "There are tigers in an area of around 200sqkm." Evidence with the state forest department suggests there are at least half a dozen tigers in Goa.
The pictures will now be matched with the WCS database to find out if these tigers are unique to Goa - the animals can be identified by their stripes. Once the WCS report is in, the forest department plans to push the notification of declaring the region a tiger reserve.
And if that happens, the department will get additional funds from the National Tiger Conservation Authority for protection and conservation of the endangered species.