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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

Tigers no longer roar at state’s lone tiger habitat, officials in a tizzy

Palamu was declared a protected forest reserve in 1973 when Project Tiger was launched, a year after it had recorded 22 tigers, according to the book ‘Main Baagh Hoon’ written by the former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF - wildlife), Jharkhand, Pradeep Kumar in 2016.

ranchi Updated: Aug 05, 2019 02:52 IST
Sanjoy Dey and Vishal Sharma
Sanjoy Dey and Vishal Sharma
Hindustan Times, Ranchi/Latehar
Presence of tiger recorded in trap camera at Chipadohar under Palamu tiger reserve in Palamu on February 17, 2019.
Presence of tiger recorded in trap camera at Chipadohar under Palamu tiger reserve in Palamu on February 17, 2019.(HT file photo)

Tigers no longer roar at Jharkhand’s lone and one of India’s first tiger habitats, Palamau Tiger Reserve (PTR), according to All India Tiger Estimation (AITE)-2018 report, released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 29, the International Tiger Day.

The report said it found no trace of tiger during the estimation period at the PTR, spread over 1,129 square kilometres. Palamu was declared a protected forest reserve in 1973 when Project Tiger was launched, a year after it had recorded 22 tigers, according to the book ‘Main Baagh Hoon’ written by the former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF - wildlife), Jharkhand, Pradeep Kumar in 2016.

The reserve recorded its highest tiger population in 1995 with 71 tigers but since then the big cat population has been dwindling. It has come down to 10 in 2010 and 3 in 2014, according to the book. But, the PTR has now gone tigerless.

Even as a group of experts and forest officials find anomaly in estimation process, they admit that tigers over the past two decades were forced to go out of the reserve.

Police-Maoist encounters, dwindling prey base, unrestrained development works, improper forest management, mushrooming human habitation and rising domestic cattle are some of the major factors that forced the big cats to leave the reserve, experts said.

Security operations rob tigers’ tranquillity

Nearly entire area of the PTR is hit by Maoists’ presence and counter-insurgency operations by the security forces. The landmines planted in deep forest by the rebels for preventing the security forces from reaching their hide outs have claimed lives of scores of animal, experts said.

The encounters, firings and land mine blasts at regular intervals have scared away the wild animals from this reserve. Tigers, who like tranquil surroundings, do not stay in these forests anymore, said an independent tiger expert and member of state wildlife board DS Srivastava.

Moreover, the setting up of security camps in the areas considered critical tiger habitats (CTH) and long range patrolling by the security personnel in core areas have also had equally devastating effect on the tiger population in this reserve.

The security camps have been set up Laat, Karamdih, Labhar, Maromar and other highly sensitive places.

Srivastava said, “Insurgency is one of the biggest reasons for tigers moving out of Palamau Tiger Reserve. Regular encounters between the Maoists and the security personnel have forced the tigers to leave their homes. Movement of Naxalites and patrolling by the forces have also increased human interference in the wild.”

Development works at PTR proves ‘bane’ for wildlife

The PTR is already fragmented in four parts with a railway line bisecting the reserve in north and south parts and a state highway dividing the two parts into east and west.

The construction of the proposed third railway line will further aggravate the already fragile link between the Betla National Park and the rest of the reserve as the third rail line will make it nearly impossible for the elephants to cross over from one part into another, experts said.

The state government had last year also proposed to build blacktopped roads in the areas, considered critical tiger habitats, but withdrew the proposal after stiff resistance from the wildlife activists.

The go-ahead for the finishing of the remaining work on the North Koel Irrigation Project (Mandal Dam) and installation will further inundate areas with good population of wildlife besides restricting the smooth movement of tigers and elephants from one part to another, said former state chief wildlife warden Pradeep Kumar.

“The reserve is already fragmented by railway tracks and state highway in four parts. With the third line coming up, the number of trains will increase and there won’t be sufficient time for the elephants to cross over. This will lead to more conflicts, with elephants entering human habitations,” he said.

Dwindling prey base

Tiger’s prey, mainly sambar and chital, has dwindled considerably in the past one decade. Till a decade ago, sighting of sambar and chital at PTR was common but now it has become rare, said a Jharkhand forest official requesting anonymity. The AITE also stresses on prey augmentation in the reserve.

In August 2017, state forest department had shifted 16 surplus sambar from Bhagwan Birsa Biological Park, also known as Ranchi zoo, to PTR to increase the prey base. As per the plan, the sambars were to be released in wild after making them habitual of local environment in an enclosure. The enclosure was set in up in Baresand area of the reserve. Two sambars, however, died due to some diseases soon after their shifting to the PTR.

PTR officials said sambars were now breeding in the enclosure and their number rose to 17. But, for their release in the wild permission of the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA) is needed.

State chief wildlife warden PK Verma said, “We sought permission from the NTCA to allow the release of surplus sambar and chital in Jharkhand sanctuaries to PTR about a year ago. But, it refused. We again wrote to the NTCA for reconsideration about six months back. The reply from the authority is still awaited.”

1.5 lakh domestic cattle eat out tiger prey’s food

The wildlife conservation is also hampered by the presence of 160 villages and 1.5 lakh cattle heads in the reserve. As per calculation of Jharkhand based NOG, Nature Conservation Society (NCA), a member of cattle family on an average needs 15kg of fodder per day. “This way, 1.5 lakh cattle heads graze over 22,000 tonnes of fodders, meant of sambar, chital and other herbivores in the Palamau Tiger Reserve. The unchecked population of domestic cattle has diminished the prey population,” said NCA assistant secretary Anil Kumar.

He said rising cattle population also discouraged tiger growth.

“We have seen tiger doesn’t drink water from the pond used by buffalo, as it leaves a certain smell,” Kumar said. Tiger population will not improve until prey base is encouraged and domestic cattle is discouraged, he said.

‘Faulty’ estimation

Experts, forest officials and a Jharkhand minister raised questions over process of estimation.

Sources in the PTR said more than 300 cameras had been installed in specific locations for estimation. But they could not be installed in entire PTR due to Maoists’ resistance. It was installed merely in 30% area of the reserve, he said requesting anonymity.

Minister Saryu Roy said, “When tiger estimation took off in 2018, the then union environment minister, Anil Madhav Dave, had directed states to avoid transfer and posting of concerned officials during the estimation period. But, most of the officials and staff were transferred during the period, which might have affected the estimation.”

Roy, minister in-charge of Latehar, urged the state government as well as the forest department to introspect into the condition of PTR, as why tiger was not found during the estimation.

“It should be identified whether there were flaws in estimation or tigers have really left the reserve,” said the minister of food and public distribution.

The then PCCF (wildlife) LR Singh said, “A group of forest officials including field director MP Singh, who was the nodal officer for estimation in Jharkhand, were given training about the estimation, which began from January 2018. The estimation concluded in December 2018. We were in positions till August 2018. Till then, neither camera trap exercise did take place and nor monitoring system for tiger-intensive protection and ecological status (M-STrIPES) was allotted to us. Thereafter, what happened to the estimation we do not know, as we were transferred.”

First Published: Aug 05, 2019 02:51 IST

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