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For whom the alarm bell tolls

For whom the alarm bell tolls

Neha Sinha
Posted: Tuesday , Jan 12, 2010 at 0311 hrs

New Delhi:

66 tigers were found dead last year, up from less than 40 killed in 2008; frequent cases of poaching being reported from areas adjoining tiger reserves have been emerging lately

This year began on an ominous note for tiger conservation efforts with three tiger deaths being reported right at the start, reflecting an upward trend in tiger poaching. Last Wednesday, a poached tiger was found dead in Lakhimpur Kheri— adjoining Uttar Pradesh’s Dudhwa tiger reserve. This was the same place where, a year ago, a tiger had moved out of the forests only to be shot dead months later near Lucknow.

The case of the Kheri tiger comes only days after a tiger skin was found by the Calicut Forest Flying Squad, who recovered the skin from Wayanad in Kerala. Both Wayanad and Kheri are places that adjoin tiger reserves, indicating that poaching is taking place not only in tiger reserves, but especially around them. The new problem areas, as per seizures of last year, indicate the same trend — contraband has been recovered from cities near tiger reserves and border areas, with the authorities unable to clamp down on the trend.

While 2008 saw less than 40 tiger deaths, in 2009, 66 tigers were found dead apart from 29 cases of seizures of tiger body parts and skins.

And while arrests in poaching related crimes have gone up, convictions are yet to catch up. Even though 66 people were arrested for tiger poaching in 2008 and 72 the next year, there were no convictions in these cases. In 2009, only two people were convicted for tiger poaching, and that too for cases which were more than a decade old. Poacher Totha Ram got five years rigorous imprisonment for cases registered in 2004 while his sister, Dilipo, was convicted with three years RI, for a tiger poaching case registered in 1992.

Enforcement officers emphasised that dead tigers are being smuggled out of India via Nepal. On July 31 last year, two tiger skins and as much as 30 kilograms of tiger bones were seized from Sonali on the India-Nepal border in Uttar Pradesh.

“This is a problem area. Not only is it vulnerable to poachers, villagers have planted illegal sugarcane crops and this is making the tigers come out of the forest and go into the sugarcane fields. The India-Nepal border is porous,” pointed out a senior official from Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.

On November 5, the CBI seized two tiger skins in Nagpur, with the tigers possibly poached from Tadoba reserve. In Kaziranga, three tigers were found poached in the reserve, while three tigers were also found dead near the reserve.

The launch of the NTCA’s (National Tiger Conservation Authority) crime database to document tiger deaths and seizures is aimed at, among other things, identifying the landscapes where tiger poaching is recurring. However, sharing data of this nature, traditionally marked ‘confidential’, is still mired in controversy.

“We can’t share information of the kind we deal with on this database. A lot of the information is extremely technical and confidential,” Wildlife Crime Control Bureau head Rina Mitra said at a meeting with NTCA and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh recently.

But while the arguments continue, it has been officially recognised that tigers are being killed at a rate not seen before. “We are at a point where tigers may go extinct in 17 of our recently assessed tiger reserves, as in Sariska and Panna, any moment. At this point, tiger deaths should not be kept secret,” said Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Meanwhile, India has once again decided against approaching the World Bank aid to assist conservation efforts. The Ministry was considering taking a loan from the World Bank for moving out upto 100,000 families based in notified ‘core’ areas of tiger reserves —- which involves nearly Rs 10 lakh per adult per family, amounting to a conservative estimate of Rs 10,000 crore.

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