How can we help to bridge critical gap in tiger conservation

How can we help to bridge critical gap  in tiger conservation
Dharmendra Khandal
Famous tiger conservationists Belinda Wright wrote on a social networking site that “Unfortunately, there was news of two dead tigers, and a third caught in a poacher’s trap. One of the tigers was electrocuted in a live-wire trap set by poachers for wild meat in Katni District, adjoining Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. Shockingly, this was the third tiger to die in an electrocution trap set by poachers in the Bandhavgarh area since 18 November 2011, a period of only 15 weeks. Another tiger was found dead near Nagarhole NP. And a third young tiger was found in a metal jaw trap in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. This one survived, although it is uncertain whether it can be returned to the wild.”

It is indeed a sad situation in which our national animal is being killed so heartlessly. Can we think of a solution and long-term vision for its survival? To understand the circumstances better, we have to differentiate these killing cases into three categories — first type is the crime, which is executed by hard core poachers, who are part of an organised poaching syndicate wanting to supply animal parts for money. The second type of killings is due to accident, because community living along the park were targeting deer or wild pig for the bush meat and the same trap killed a tiger or leopard. The third type is deliberate, revenge killing of tigers and leopards by the community to protect their livestock, which is a big crisis.

To control all these worrisome situations in right time and beforehand can be are really challenging. We have to admit that government agencies are still not equipped and trained to control these organised crimes. Some NGO’s performance fair better than the government agencies in the field of anti-poaching such as WPSI and WTI. While some local NGOs such as Tiger Watch are working effectively in and around single parks, in this case the Ranthambhore tiger reserve. But NGOs cannot work on a large-scale single-handedly without government support. The forest department is not putting enough resources for intelligence gathering. Also, if they execute the poaching raids well, they are hardly able to convert them into correct court cases. They mostly lose the court cases and the same poachers become more immune and trained towards the system loopholes. The success rate of conviction is just 3 per cent in India, and if we removed Sariska poaching cases from them; the conviction is less than 0.3 per cent of total wildlife crime cases. Hence, the same people always come back into the poaching business.

The other killing is because of meat or revenge killing and this can be control only with the help of local community’s support. Only the local resident of adjoining villages can provide information for this and they can be employed for the same, this way they would be involved and part of the monitoring team. In Ranthambhore, almost 20 villagers have been employed by the partnership of forest department and an NGO for this work. It is working well in the region in managing anti-poaching, but also managing the stray tigers when they move outside the protected areas into villages or farms. They are also working as a buffer link between the forest department and local village community whenever big cats kill their livestock. They help the department to estimate the cost of the animal and inform whether compensation was provided in time, among other things. Such projects can bridge the critical gap in conservation and the villagers can become partners in conserving our last wilderness.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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