SUMAN K. SHRIVASTAVA
Ranchi, March 1: Animal lovers may have welcomed P Chidambaram’s
announcement of a grant of Rs 50 crore to raise an armed special
tiger protection force, but those at the Palamau Tiger Reserve here
are not impressed with the finance minister’s gesture.
Local forest officials believe that while a tiger force was an
effective antidote to the dwindling numbers of big cats in other
reserves, Palamau was different as it has always been under the grip
So, an armed force would only escalate tension and invite further
trouble, feared officials at the reserve that was one of the first to
be brought under Project Tiger in 1973.
The Palamau reserve, according to the latest census, has 17 tigers.
The Dehradun-based World Wildlife Institute is, however, yet to
approve of the claim.
Forest officials said the dwindling number of tigers at Palamau
should not be attributed to poaching, a problem being faced by the
remaining eight other tiger reserves.
“The decreasing number of tigers in Palamau was more due to the
shrinking base of prey animals who do not have proper food for
survival,” said a senior forest officer. The number of domestic
animals has increased alarmingly, sharing the available fodder in the
Illegal felling of trees wasn’t a factor for the falling numbers
either. For, such activity was restricted to teak only. “Teak isn’t
native to Jharkhand. So, its felling does not make much of a
difference,” the officials said.
“Moreover, unarmed forest officers, who usually go on patrolling in
the jungle during daytime, may attract the attention of Naxalites
once they are armed,” they added.
Palamau required a different approach. “We must increase the area of
grassland to supply fodder to the carnivores,” said a senior IFS
Union finance minister P. Chidambaram, while introducing budget 2008,
said the number ? 1,411 ? of the big cat in the country should ring
alarm bells. “The tiger is under grave threat. There is the need to
redouble the effort to protect the tiger,” he said, proposing a one
time grant of Rs 50 crore to the National Tiger Conservation
Authority to raise, arm and deploy a special tiger protection force.
The number of tigers at Palamau has always been a matter of dispute.
Since the first census in 1934, its population showed a steady
decline till 1972 when it touched 17. After being declared a
sanctuary in 1973, the number rose to 55 in 1989. The 1991 census
pegged the tiger population at 54 and in 2005, it was 38. Trackers
say there are seven tigers now.
R.N. Prasad, senior conservator of the Palamau tiger project,
however, agreed that the armed force would serve one purpose. “It
will at least stop the felling of trees.”
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