Friday, May 14, 2010


By Lavkumar Khachar

Rajkot. Thursday, 1st April, 2010.

Yesterday night I saw on television Tiger Bone Whiskey being touted for sale in China! Earlier the same day there had been a Blog by Satyendra Tiwari informing about a tiger having killed a girl from one of villages bordering the Bandhavgarh National Park. Satyendra makes a living as a wildlife guide. These two episodes troubled me through the night compelling me to sit down and outline my concerns. Are we in India very seriously contemplating the issues involving the protection of our wildlife in general and the large carnivores in particular? In all honesty, I believe much is just cosmetics. The Indian Tiger and the Asiatic Lion --- and for that matter the other larger mammals like Gaur, Rhinoceros  and Elephants, are not safe since very serious, comprehensive conceptualizing of how to integrate their welfare into the larger more pressing human problems is not happening.  Can anyone tell me how much a dead tiger is worth keeping the China Whiskey in mind as against the value of a living tiger to the communities around our National Parks? I would like to see comprehensive, vibrant programs where by these communities are the total beneficiaries of the living tigers. At best there is a very vague outline conceived in what is being publicized as the Brihad (Greater) Gir where the lions are spreading out well beyond the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and being accepted (so far) with a measure of proprietor pride by the people. It is this experiment which needs to be concentrated on instead of all this, to my mind childish, talk of swopping wild tigers for wild lions. Very sharply etched priorities need to be worked on by which the existing populations of wild carnivores are provided absolute security. With this preamble, let me get on with my worries.

The much publicized Project Tiger is now well in its fortieth decade. We all know the tigers disappearing in thin air from the Siraska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. What is happening in those Reserves that are infested by the pesky Naxalites is any ones guess. I would not be surprised if the big cats have been converted into finances for ammunition. I have figures from the Ranthambhore with its much ogled tigers and here, all does not seem to be well. But, before I focus on this flag ship Reserve of the Project, let me make a few general observations. Assuming that an area is well managed, the wildlife population will continue to grow until such time as to reach an optimum and the animals would start spreading out well beyond the protected area. They would immediately start coming into conflict situations with human beings lifting domestic stock and mauling, if not killing people. Do the authorities have records of such happenings? Even if no conflict results, should it not be the concern of the wardens to know about the well being these animals? Are there any records available? Most assuredly, these animals have ended up in the black market. It is this unmonitored zone around each protected area that worries me as the nascent zone generating poaching which can assume virulent proportions should there be social unrest among the people. Then, there is the troubling question of inbreeding of discrete populations within the isolated protected areas; I have not heard of what should be done about this problem other the rather impractical suggestions of setting up "corridors" to interlink the Parks and Sanctuaries along which wildlife can move. Having travelled from Kanha to Bandhavgarh, I fail to see how any such corridor can possibly be developed between the two, let alone linking them with Ranthambhore to the distant West and then North to Siraska. The wildlife "experts" will have to come forward with more practical suggestions.

I have some information on Ranthambhore Tiger Preserve which is the best known and I am not too happy with what I have learnt. I would wish the information is wrong and would love to be corrected—that is what the purpose of initiating discussions on issues is all about. In India, given our horrendous human problems, conservation issues do tend to get overshadowed and a feeling of complaisance sets in and the initial sense of urgency gets lost. Well back to Ranthambhore. Here are the facts with me:

Area:  1330 square Kilometers which my calculator converts to 513.51351 square Miles as against the 1412 square Kilometers or 545.17375 square Miles of the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park. Ranging over this area and into the adjacent Sawai Mansingh Wildlife Sanctuary there are some 40 tigers. The information, though not coming to me from official sources is worth sharing:

Location, sex and age wise break up:
 Ranthambhore:                              Males    Adults:                          13
                                                                              Sub Adults:            3                             16

                                                              Females Adults:                      17
                                                                              Sub Adults:                3                           20
                                                                             Total:                                                       36

                                                Less:    Adults sent to Siraska
                                                                                    Male:                      1
                                                                                    Females:                 2
                                                                                            Total:              3

                                                             Females died                                  2
                                                                                   Total:                         5
                           Balance at Ranthambhore:                                                                        31
Sawai Mansingh Wildlife Sanctuary:                                                            5

Outside Protected Areas:                                                                               2            
                                                             Total:                                                                          38

This estimate is on the lower side and certainly subject to correction, but will do for the discussion I intend to initiate.

Five hundred square Miles would seem to be adequate for 12 adult males. Quite obviously, the stronger and more dominant males would hold the largest and the best territories, the peripheries spilling over outside the Preserve would be where the younger males and the displaced older ones would be prowling the circuits. It these males that would be the ones who would end up in conflict with human beings, lifting domestic stock and possibly end up mauling or killing villagers. A forward looking management would see these peripheral males, the younger ones particularly, as forerunners to the expanding of Ranthambhore yet these interfaces where the danger lies in providing temptations to kill the tigers for economic considerations.  A tiger can be easily poisoned by lacing the carcass with cheap ubiquitous pesticides, the carcass made to vanish without leaving any trace into the underworld labyrinth of the international wildlife trade.  Within the Preserve would be continual tension for territory and females heightened in this instance by the low tigress to tiger ratio.

Among the adult tigresses too there would be competition to hold prime territory and the older as well as the younger females would diffuse outwards. A tigress young or old in a new area should be good news as she would breed and provide a nucleus expanding the tiger domain, but as things are, she would be a heightened potential for man vs tiger conflict as a tigress, especially an aging one, with cubs would be more tempted to take to killing humans. Does Project Tiger have any advance planning for such outward movement resulting from success of their protective measures within the Reserve? In any case, any talk of tigers spreading out beyond the protected areas would be meaningful provided there is an active program in place to ensure availability of wild ungulates along with a scheme for quick compensation of domestic stock lifted by tigers. If there is one in place, it would be welcome news.

The impression I have gained is that the Project Tiger staff at Ranthambhore is more involved with handling the tourists flocking to see the tigers. One wonders how the authorities with this mind set will ever consider setting up units for tourists around Ranthambhore on lines of the Hudko experiment in Kachchh. Let it be stated in no uncertain terms that if we cannot put up chain link fencing around our major wildlife areas, the only alternative is to have the local communities actively involved in the blueprinting of successful conservation. The huge amount of money being generated by the Ranthambhore tigers must be equitably shared with the communities if they are to be the effective living fencing for the tigers.

What of the tigers which die? Does inbreeding of isolated populations pose a serious long term problem? Can large predators like tigers roam free across the landscape? Do the experts talking about translocation of lions and tigers have acceptable answers?                                        

Lavkumar Khachar.

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