Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gujarat uses technology to count Asiatic lions

Gujarat uses technology to count Asiatic lions
The Economic Times By Bhuwan Bhaskar

A happy civilization is credited not only with ever-growing human population, but also with the positive growth of flora and fauna. And amid talks of India emerging as a superpower in a decade or so, at least one thing is burgeoning out of the bounds of civilization.

Just a fortnight ago, it was announced that Asiatic lions registered an increase of 13% vis-a-vis the earlier census in 2005 in Gir, Gujarat.

The importance of the announcement could be ascertained by the fact that the chief minister Mr Narendra Modi choose to do it himself. Mr. Modi called it a Gujarati gift to the globe. In a press conference, he announced the figures.

He proudly pronounced that Gujarat had, for the first time in the international history of lion census, used technology to count Asiatic lions. The outcome was increased numbers, improved sex ratio and more areas conquered. There were 411 of the big cats in Gir sanctuary and surrounding areas. This was a jump of 52 over the previous census in 2005.

But it was not like everything is just as hunky dory as Mr. Modi tried to project. "It would only be a political statement if we state that India has achieved so much more in conservation as compared with other countries in the neighbourhood. The real question is have we really achieved enough given our enormous potential both in terms of natural richness and diversity and more importantly our human and knowledge resources," said Dr Ravi Chellam, country director, Wildlife Conservation Society-India Program (WCS-India).

Nevertheless, Chellam hails the progress made so far. So does the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). "The government is moving in a right direction and people are more aware now. Wildlife has become pride of many populations. Like, lions are now pride of Gujarat and rhino that of Assam," said the WTI co-ordinator Dr Anil Kumar Singh.

The newly emerged figures from Gir coincides with the Golden Gujarat celebrations, marked to commemorate the 50 years of foundation of the state. But the nation has to wait for the same kind of celebration as tiger census 2009 is continuing.

"India holds over half the world's tiger population. ccording to the latest tiger census report released on February 12, 2008 by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the current tiger population stands at 1,411," claims the website of Wildlife Protection Society of India. These figures didn't include Jharkhand and Sunderbans. The state of West Bengal was covered only partially (i.e. North Bengal) during the census.

At the turn of the 19th century, one estimate of the tiger population in India placed the figure at 45,000. It came down to shocking 1,800 in the beginning of 1970s. Then in 1972, Government of India introduced wildlife protection act, which made poaching a crime and lied foundation for numerous sanctuaries.

One law in four decades! "It is not like the Wild Life Protection Act has not been amended since then. But apart from making laws, we should do a lot of other things too. Budgets of the state forest departments especially for wildlife management have grown tremendously.

Unfortunately bulk of these resources are invested in infrastructure like glossy buildings and roads. The sanctuaries and national parks are grossly understaffed. The field staff are poorly paid and lack the basic infrastructure.

It is important that the national parks and sanctuaries are open for a public audit which is not merely restricted to the financial aspects but more importantly cover the ecological and social aspects of conservation," said Dr Chellam. India has been a fabulous success story in shooting down poaching as well as accidental mortality mishappenings.

"Last year 17 cubs died falling in open wells. We are covering the open wells like mission and here is the result— only one death is reported this year," said Mr Modi. In 2010, only 23 tigers were reported dead due to the above said activities as against 85 in 2009.

There are many, who feel the laws are softer on poachers. "The sentence should be more harsh. Poachers get bail easily under present laws. They should get at least 12-14 years of jail if convicted, so that they can't turn back in the jungle," said Dr Singh of WTI.

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