Saturday, March 17, 2012

6. The Future of Indian Tigers and Asiatic Lions.

6. The Future of Indian Tigers and Asiatic Lions.
By Lavkumar Khachar

By sheer coincidence, I have been expressing my doubts about the future of the two noble felines when there is a spate of news about tigers from the man at the top of the figurative speaking conservation pyramid: Jairam Ramesh, the Central Minister for Forest and Wildlife (Environment if you will). Well, he has spoken about dangers ahead and the need to see that "lazy" Forest Guards are made to be more active in the field and not prepare reports sitting in their offices. There also was reference to recruiting "suitable" men into the Force. All this vindicates what I have been saying in a rather brash way. He has also spoken about the China Trade, but a little while back, I spoke to a jeweler asking him how much a "Wagh Nakh" (Tiger Claw) ornament would cost. Each claw alone is being peddled by sleazy dealers for up to Rs.5000/- for the larger ones. For me the math was simple, one large tiger, or lion for that matter, could be poisoned with cheap pesticide and merely the claws removed would fetch the killer Rs.1,00,000/-! With the "lazy" Forest Guards around, the chances are that the carcass would go undetected until the maggots have completed the requiem.  As I have indicated, even with the most tightly patrolled Sanctuary areas, animals spreading out would be vulnerable unless there is a high emotional value among the local populace. Towards this end, the Minister's suggestion to put a cap on resorts is welcome though I would like to see visitors being able to live with rural families and enjoy the peace of the countryside with, if lucky, a tiger or a lion added to the experience.
Significantly too, the report of high concentration of tigers in Kaziranga in Assam points to the emotive value of the One Horned Rhino for which that National Park was designated. I still remember how annoyed the Assamese where to be asked to part with "their" rhinos. I would not be wrong in believing that the healthy state of that Poject Tiger Reserve owes considerably to the possessive feeling of the people at large being reflected in greater involvement of the ground staff. Assam has had its unrests and law and order situations yet, poaching of the rhino and the tiger seems not to have been as high as one would expect. It is this emotive feeling which is apparently missing across much of India barring Sorath in Gujarat and the Vishnoi areas of Rajasthan. There are other such areas in Rajasthan and Haryana where the authorities would do well to gain strength from the prevailing popular sentiments. ARANYAK has strong roots in the Assamese soil while around the Gir we have many Nature Clubs, less well organized perhaps, but equally alert.
While the popular sentiment against Gujarat parting with "its" lions may be stymied as parochialism, my objections are far from being possessive. Before anyone dares to brand me a Gujarati, let me remind my critics that I have been the spark that has led to the notification of the Great Western Himalayan National Park, the Naloban Bird Sanctuary in Chilika Lake and the Nanda Devi World Heritage Site. I welcome the Minister's declaration of tightening the enforcement machinery in Project Tiger areas, I would be the happiest of men to be able to watch lions stalking herds of Neel Gai with the backdrop of the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur and, should my opinion be sought, I would advise that the first Cheetah be introduced in the Tal Chappar Sanctuary of Rajasthan and not, specially Velavadar in Gujarat. Friends in Bhavnagar would brand me a traitor just as those wanting the lions for Madhya Pradesh stymie me as a parochial Gujarati. Why do I aver that Velavadar must not be the first place to experiment with the introduction of Cheetahs, though this was indeed where the Maharajas of Bhavnagar hunted Black Buck with them? The whole area is prone to flooding during heavy monsoons. More important, the Gujarat Wildlife personnel must fully concentrate on the successful spread of lions well beyond the confines of the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary. This success alone would be a major international conservation story.
While everyone seems to be focused on glamorous species like the tiger and lions, the very real challenge is to conserve vast areas of countryside, the present notified areas being the very last ideal wilderness real estate left. I would want to see them gradually spreading across the heavily degraded common lands instead of being permanently under siege situations. If the Tigers and Lions are endangered, far more poignant is the decline of the several highly bred domestic breeds like the Gir and the Kankrej cows. And, what of the many indigenous species of trees that have largely vanished from the countryside? The gradual spread of lions across the degraded hill country of Saurashtra would encourage the regeneration of the grasses that would result in recharging of the many hill streams which were a feature that alas has few left to attest. In the ancient Sanskrit writings, there is a couplet on Saurashtra which is telling:
     Saurashtrae pancha ratnani,                    In Saurashtra there are five jewels
      Nadi, Nari, Turangama                                Rivers (!), Women, Surf of the Sea,
       Chaturtha Somanathas cha                           the forth is Somnath and
          Panchamam Hari Darshanam…..                   Fifth,  the "Darshan" of the Lord (Dwarka).
Nowhere the mention of lions! It is the rivers that delighted the ancients and they were indeed there well into the last century for me to have played in them as a boy and watched fish in their translucent water.
It has been my privilege to have been the initiator of the Nature Clubs that have spread across India assuring me a welcome across Gujarat, and beyond across large parts of Maharashtra, through Karnataka into Kerala; in the distant east there are valued young friends in Assam. I regret to say that there are no Nature Clubs that I know of around the prestigious Tiger reserves of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh! No wonder the tigers vanished from Siraska without a moan while the death of each lion generates a near hysteria in the local press.  Ending this series of hopefully provocative essays, I would like to recommend to the Forest Departments of the two great Tiger States with their immense tourist visitation to form Forest Nature Clubs around their wildlife areas. Even though these may raise groups of potential critics as has happened around the Gir they would also provide the "suitable recruits" the Minister spoke of.
                                                                                                                                                      Lavkumar Khachar.

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