Govt shield for Dampa big cats

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Govt shield for Dampa big cats

Mizoram sets up steering committee to help check dwindling numbers

Silchar, April 14: Better late than never.

The Mizoram government has formed the much-awaited high-level steering committee to ensure effective co-ordination among forest officials and other agencies to nurture and augment the state’s tiger population.

The committee comprises government officials, non-governmental naturalists and conservationists. Though Section 38U of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WPA) stipulates that such a committee is mandatory for every state to ensure better protection of tigers, the environment and forest department in Mizoram was a little late in floating one.

A Tiger Conservation Foundation had also been constituted recently, which was emphasised in the amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act in 2006.

Mizoram boasts of 18,775 square km of forests of its total geographical area of 21,081 square km. It has a 500-square km tiger reserve at Dampa along its western border with Bangladesh. Dampa was declared a tiger reserve by the Centre in 1994.

The tiger population at Dampa, however, is on a slide. According to a report compiled by the Mizoram state environment and forest department, Dampa is now left with only six big cats, compared to 13 recorded in the last census in 1997.

The main factors for the decline in the number of tigers are encroachment, jhum (shifting) cultivation by villagers who live on the fringes of the reserve in at least a dozen hamlets and the failure of the forest authorities to carve out the core and buffer areas for tiger protection.

The forest officials, however, pointed out that the census carried out in January this year at Dampa could be misleading because the usual method of counting by pugmarks was not followed.

Instead, remote sensing gadgets and camera trapping methods were used for a tiger census. “There can be a margin of error because this is the first time that such sophisticated technique was used to count tigers,” a forest department official said.

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