Saving The Tiger (an update)
There are several articles a day about tigers. Very few ever make it into our daily media coverage. In order to save one of the most loved animals on this planet, we really must understand its current situation.
Who better to give us a look at the wild Bengal Tiger’s situation that Dr. Dharmendra Khandal, the Field Biologist from Tiger Watch in India (http://www.tigerwatch.net)
I was sent his way via Jay Mazoomdar arguably the best journalist in India covering the tiger’s situation. A recent and excellent article he wrote can be found here:
(*please note all opinions in this blog are those of the subjects and author and do not necessarily reflect their employers past and present nor the organizations mentioned)
Today’s media will focus on cute stories of white tiger cubs, or attention grabbing pieces like an attack on a zookeeper but seldom offer us any information other than current wild tiger numbers at the closing of the edited and often dumbed down news piece. Recent stores of recent tiger attacks on Indian villagers, tiger relocation efforts, population success stories or westerners like Ron Tilson (Minnesota Zoo) going into the field to help wild tigers seldome recieve any attention. There are people out there right now putting it all on the line for the tiger, and those people have to have a voice.
I asked Dr. Dharmendra a few questions to help me get a better understanding of what we are facing with tiger conservation.
–Tiger farms right now are recently a big issue since a major news show here in America stated that if we farm and allow people to own endangered animals like tigers, their numbers will be greater and they wont be endangered, any opinions on this line of thinking?
(DR. Dharm) It is a completely wrong notion. We don’t want just the animal, we want its natural behavior, the way it controls the eco system and the role it plays in the eco system. An animal saved in zoo is equivalent to saving just an animal but in a wild it would mean saving several deer’s, few kilometers of grass, habitat also. It means saving the entire eco system which is the birds, spiders, rodents, reptiles, everything. Ex- situ conservation is required for animals whose numbers are very low and/ or have difficulties with breeding. In India we have around 1400 – 1500 tigers but Indian jungles can hold about 2000- 2500 tigers. If the poaching scenario is diminished this number can be attained in 3 years. Tiger is a proliferous breeder however poaching and habitat destruction is pushing them towards extinction.
Tiger farms can produce animals but what we really need is the tiger habitat. Poaching is a big problem. Explain a bit further, today tiger and poachers are fighting each other, the tiger is breeding and the poacher is killing. However the tiger can loose the battle in the future, Sariska Tiger Reserve was the first example; Panna Tiger Reserve was the second example. However many tigers reserves in India like Bandhavgarh, Ranthambhore, Pench and Corbett are doing well too. Many Tiger Reserves are at the edge and fighting the battle.
In this process the tiger breed is getting weak. Tigress raises her cubs for 2 years and then it is killed by a poacher, to explain further there are two segregations: core (Comparatively well protected, with good prey base and good forest cover but small in size) and buffer (less protected, less prey base, close to human habitation but larger in size) core where tiger breeds and buffer where it comes and gets killed.
–What would be for Ranthambhore Park a good tiger population? & what is the current tiger population?
Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve (RTR) is covering 1330 sq km area, this includes 2 sanctuaries: Kailadevi and Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary and 1 national park i.e. Ranthambhore National Park (RNP). But only RNP keeps resident tiger population while other areas have some transient population of tigers. The carrying capacity of Ranthambhore is 35 – 40 tigers while we have 30 tigers at present.
–What are the biggest threats in Ranthambhore park and overall to the Bengal tiger population?
1-The population of India is the biggest problem. 2-These days’ tiger poaching.
–As for Tiger poaching and the illegal trade in their parts, the locals can't afford to buy the skins and bones, so who is buying the items and how do we get it under control?
Recently I wrote a letter to somebody. It is also a brief about my work, excuse me for cutting and pasting it here, but the info will help you understand the poaching chain. Anti-poaching work of Ranthambhore had caught lowest, middle & top most of poachers and traders.
Talking about top king pin Nima; an international trader from China, was caught in Delhi with 34 leopard skins. This 34 leopard skin was his one assignment these type of assignment he used to take every month. Mr. Sameer Singh, Additional Superintendent of police, saw his diary and commented that his own personal daily expenses were Rs. 4000- 5000 INR. (Note only: $85-$105 USD)
Coming to middle men…Bablu and Azad the middle men from Madhya Pradesh; who were earlier caught in Bhopal for trading in wildlife products have also been caught. Their parents Hari singh and Munni bai are old timers trading in wildlife products since the past 20 years.
Mohar Singh and Madho Singh the father and son duo, who are considered the biggest traders in central India of these wildlife parts; a tiger skull was confiscated from them during a raid. They purchased animal products from Ranthambhore, Panna, Melghat, Satpura & Pachmani; have also been nabbed. Ironically, Madho Singh’s sister works in the forest.
Kesra Mogiya, Ramjilal, Jugraj, Rajmal and Devisingh were caught from Ranthambhore. Guys we think as low rung are team leaders of 8- 9 members’ gang, they are dacoits and have cases of murder against them, Devisingh is the Surpanch i.e head of a village, and he has a tractor and a jeep as well. He is fathering 13 kids and has 2 wives. Kesra has just purchased a vehicle costing him 2.3 lac INR and Rs 70,000 in repair of the well of his house.
Except for Nima all the other poachers were caught by Tiger watch and Rajasthan police team. Nima was caught by information from Mohar Singh and Madho Singh by the same Rajasthan police team.
These people exist which is inevitable, however what ‘IS’ unfortunate is they all were caught by the police and not by the responsible division which is the Forest Department. Those not from this field may be unaware of all this but the police force is awarded with the UN award for this work. The Chief Minister awarded the leading police officer of the operation team, Mr Alok Vasisth with a gun and the second officer in the operation was rewarded with a rifle. And the tigers of Ranthambhore were rewarded with their life.
It is very shameful that 2 IFS officers of forest Mr. S.A Hussain (CF – Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve) and Mr. Gobind Sagar Bharadwaj (DFO – Ranthambhore) were put on Awaited Post Order (APO) for such negligence.
Its very unfortunate that in judiciary some people got bail because the public prosecutor was saying “judge saab these people have not killed any LIONS” I have legal papers which mention lions (lion are found only in the Gir forest of Gujarat in India)The way Panna’s facts were suppressed when Wildlife Scientist like Raghu’s researches on tigers gone from Panna were denied by top officials of MP (CWLW Mr. Pabla) and our judiciary defends our forest in the existing manner there is less hope of survival, even of the fittest!
–How do you get people to join the anti poaching units and risk their life to help protect an animal?
There are 3 types of people
1) Who work for passion
2) Who work for money
3) Who work for clearing their personal revenges
One should be able to manage these 3 groups. Let the passionate volunteer and monitor. If you have a strong case of poaching then help the revengeful get their thorns plucked and give money to the ones needing it.
–Why conserve the tiger and how do you tell someone who has been attacked or had a family member killed that the tiger is important and needs to be protected?
There are many answers to ‘Why save the Tiger?’ In our area we have lesser incidents of such attacks however there are places like Sundarban and Chandrapur where such incidents are frequent. One can not convince a grieve struck family on the day of the incident that a tiger is important but one can keep constant and vigorous conservation education programs during the in-between periods of such incidents so that the masses are aware and educated on the issue.
In Ranthambhore there were 2 such incidents, in one incident a tiger killed the man as he mistakenly went in the bush where the tiger was sitting, and there was one incident where the tiger ate a man. This man’s family is supported by us, we provide the kids with education and healthcare, they don’t have many grievances except for the loss of the family man. India’s society is not very reactive it tolerates such incidents to a larger extent as compared to the west.
–Hopefully soon the local people will have better health care and water sources and thus will live longer and healthier lives. But since a growing human population is always a threat to wildlife will there be education about family planning (birth control) or housing/homes that build up and not out into the parks? How will the parks manage/deal with the growing human populations outside the parks?
Yes, Population is a problem… consumerism is a bigger problem, lot of resources available today. Unfortunately I don’t have the answers to how this all will be controlled. This big problem will have to be broken in to pieces there is no Magic bullet to such huge issue. My arena is anti poaching and my sister concern is Prakritik society which works on providing healthcare in Ranthambhore. How issues will be address will be unfolded in the future…
–What do you say to someone living half a world away (like a child in school) who loves tigers and asks what can I do to help save them? If they can only afford to give a few dollars, will that small amount help? And since the recent money from US Fish and Wildlife was returned, when can we see the plan to provide a better life for the local families?
No. A dollar never helps. US fish sent me dollars, I had to return them because at that time the problem was not understood carefully nor did we have a plan to curb the problem. They gave us the money to rehabilitate the Mogiyas (local people) but at that time we were waiting for government support to allot us land for the rehab work. They denied the allocation of land and the entire program went in drains. This time however we exposed government, making it stand against us but we still went ahead and took up the Mogiya rehab work, faced several challenges due to government. Just because of good understanding and plan we are able to move ahead in providing good healthcare, education and alternate livelihood to the Mogiya families today.
I shall tell you how this was possible… it was possible because of a schools small contributions. There is a school in New Delhi which has regular tiger fests sell our Mogiya handicrafts and their own artifacts, initially we could appoint an informer due to this fund. The schools entire report is available on our website www.tigerwatch.net please go through it if you need further details. 3 times electricity has gone and I am rewriting answers to your queries as some one has taken keen interest in tiger conservation. In the same manner in place of a traditional funding source if a kid can give tiger because just 1 INR (25 cents) that money will put good will to the cause, helping save tiger.
–Where does most of the money given to tiger conservation go? And who seems to give the most money?
50% money goes in Admin, 50% goes in the cause. It is the ratio of a good NGO. A person like me who is PhD in Botany is required to do Anti-poaching, writing proposals for Mogiya schools, designing bed covers for mogiya women handicraft program, for example, a large wildlife organization would have several personnel’s and departments for each of these job.
Coming to your next question, we have received highest amount of about $50,000. from Anneberg Foundation, USA.
We had received this 2 years back and managed the funds up to now, but now we do have concerns as due to recession we have less donations. Next are support from corporate and some private donors.
–Sadly, all business (including the wildlife conservation industry) seem to have greed, politics, and corruption, so how do you try to keep that out of tiger conservation and also its projects to help the local people?
The only way to keep out corruption is to have transparency. I had 60000 Rs slush funds from David Shepherd foundation during my first 6 months antipoaching operations in 2005. I used Rs. 10000/- which were given by my clerk to the people directly. Hence my society has complete faith in my work and the use of funds by me. I can not comment on other NGO’s workings.
I can’t thank DR. Dharmendra enough for taking the time out of his very busy day to give us an inside view of the world of tiger conservation.
Wildlife like tigers need our immediate help and attention if they are to survive into the next generation. It is a difficult balance tigers are dealing with, with the increase of human population, the rise of people/wildlife conflict, and the effects of tourism which on the good side brings in money and appreciation for India’s wildlife. But also as we saw this year can be over whelming at times like we read about in a vehicle and tiger collision resulting in the death of the tiger. The production of palm oils, used in many of the treats we consume is a major factor into the disappearing of tiger habitat. I hope the corporations find better alternatives that give wildlife and keeping this planet healthy a chance. We need to better arm and pay the anti poaching teams putting their lives on the line to protect tigers. We must put in end to the trade in tiger products which put a strain on their populations.
It isn’t all gloom and doom. There are parks that are stabilizing their tiger numbers, and some even showing a slight increase. Wildlife groups are finally pulling together their resources to work on plans to relocate tigers to help other parks with their numbers. And agencies are also required now to look further into the cause of tiger deaths. I hope wildlife organizations will better manage their money and eliminate unnecessary administration or advertising so that more funds can go directly to the cause at hand. There is indeed hope for the wild tiger.
Here in the US we are saturated with tiger stories mostly featuring the thousands of captive tigers not in a registered or accredited breeding program like the SSP but rather in people’s homes or in sub par facilities. We seem to be getting distracted and further and further removed from the wild tiger situation despite the thousands of tigers we have around us.
New tiger exhibits can cost into the millions at an accredited facility, putting a strain on the cash flow of a place. If that facility isn’t directly helping wild tiger conservation then is it all millions spent for nothing? I think we can safely say the children of today realize tigers are endangered, so we must move onto the next step and begin to act and help the wild tiger. Our failure in America (as seen by the recent Traffic report “Paper Tigers”) to better legislate and police tiger ownership has resulted in the uprising of rescues and sanctuaries which rely heavily on public donations which may have other wise gone into wildlife conservation.
I hope we can begin to focus on the stories relevant to the survival of the tiger.
I plan on going to India in 2011 and I hope to be able to see a tiger, an animal that is stabilizing not only its own population but the health and well being of India’s citizens. I hope not to see a tiger, an animal being wiped off this planet at an alarming rate.
Thanks for reading.
*About the Author: Brian has worked around captive animals like tigers for the past decade at accredited facilities and is involved in attracting attention and funds to wildlife conservation. He operates “Brian’s Art for Animals” which remains one of You Tube’s most watched channels featuring original animal programming.
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