Bid to cordon off big cats sparks row

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Bid to cordon off big cats sparks row

6 Jul 2009, 0401 hrs IST, Neha Lalchandani, TNN

NEW DELHI: The National Tiger Conservation Authority’s bid to prevent as many as 11 Tiger sanctuaries from heading the Sariska-Panna way by calling for corralling off a “core” big cat population for breeding has kicked off a controversy with some experts slamming the proposal as a knee-jerk response.

The NTCA letter to 11 sanctuaries is alarming news. The suggestion that the parks carry out an “in situ” breeding programme by cordoning off two females and a male tiger, is the clearest admission so far that the king of the jungle is in crisis. The sanctuaries have tiger populations ranging from 15 to five and the wipeout of Panna has seen the NTCA think of radical measures.

NTCA has written to chief wildlife wardens of 11 national parks to keep the tigers and a prey base in an enclosed area. The “house arrest” of tigers in a virtual aquarium is seen to be needed to protect dwindling tiger populations highly vulnerable to poaching and man-animal conflict. NTCA member secretary Dr Rajesh Gopal revealed — for the first time on record — that the Panna tigers were most probably poached.

Dr Gopal told TOI that Panna lost most of its tiger population to poaching. “The last tiger there was spotted in December and even he has disappeared now. Poaching seems to be the major cause for this,” he said. The aim of the new plan is to protect breeding tigers from being poached.

But experts are questioning the proposal. Dr Ullas Karanth, director of Wildlife Conservation Society says the government needs to address the question why the tigers disappeared. Experts say the government is going in for desperate measures without really addressing the issue of policing and man-animal conflict. The complicity of park employees has often been suspected in the poaching.

“Putting tigers in an enclosure is not going to help. A lot of money might be spent but nothing will come out of it because nobody seems to know where the tigers are going. Attempts at reintroducing tigers can be made to supplement the current populations but that has to be done scientifically. With the tigers’ prey also having disappeared, protection and patrolling in parks has to be increased,” Dr Karanth said.

While some drew comparison to tigers being bred in the zoo, former Project Tiger director P K Sen supported the advisory. “What is the point of providing protection when there are no tigers. And where are the tigers going to come from now. Relocation is also a scientific method since the landscape of the park from where the animal is moved has to be similar. This is just an experiment and one needs to give it a chance to work,” he said.

The list of 11 reserves includes Valmiki (Bihar), Sanjay Dubri (MP), Dampa (Manipur), Manas (Assam), Namdapha (AP), Palamu (Jharkhand), Nagarjunasagar (Andhra), Indravati (Chhattisgarh), Buxa (WB), Simlipal (Orissa) and Kalakad Mundanthurai (TN).

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