Saving the Indian tiger

Without active intervention by government and society, the majesty and fearful symmetry of this magnificent beast may disappear from Indian forests forever.

THE plight of the Indian tiger has never received the sort of publicity that it is currently receiving any time in recent memory. The telecommunications conglomerate Aircel flashes, on a daily basis, an advertisement on the main television channels in India about the dwindling tiger population.

It has employed India’s cricket captain M S Dhoni as its ambassador, exhorting the Indian public to save the struggling tiger. There are a variety of daily news items on the state of tiger populations, each day focusing on one of India’s 39 tiger reserves, with scoops on recent tiger deaths, corruption and incompetence of forest officials, and interviews with experts and politicians, discussing and analysing solutions to what has become a nightmarish prospect – the extinction of the Indian tiger.

There is no doubt that India’s national animal is in deep trouble. According to a 2008 census, there are only 1,411 tigers left in the wild in India, compared with 3,600 tigers a decade ago and over 40,000 a century ago.

In some national parks such as Panna and Sariska, which once had thriving tiger populations, tigers are now officially extinct. Some experts believe that even the figure of 1,411 is exaggerated and that numbers have now dipped below 1,000. Bearing in mind that India is home to over half of the world’s tiger population, this does not bode well for the species as a whole.

But India has been in this situation before. In its first ever census conducted in 1972, shocking news emerged that the tiger count was only 1,827. This was largely attributed to widespread poaching – India started banning tiger poaching only in 1970.

Save Wildlife

There is no doubt that India’s national animal is in deep trouble. According to a 2008 census, there are only 1,411 tigers left in the wild in India, compared with 3,600 tigers a decade ago and over 40,000 a century ago. Some experts believe that even the figure of 1,411 is exaggerated and that numbers have now dipped below 1,000.

The crisis precipitated a government sponsored project known as “Project Tiger”, which resulted in the creation of a number of tiger reserves dedicated to the protection of the tiger, as well as core buffer areas: contiguous areas which were freed from human activities to allow for tiger corridors. This lead to significant recovery over time of tiger numbers, the apex period being in 1989, when India’s tiger population rose to an impressive 4,334.

Poachers

However, this time, the crisis comes with an even greater bite. The dwindling of tiger numbers has two primary causes. The first primary cause is the old enemy, the poacher. Poachers in India generally belong to impoverished nomadic hunting tribes who traverse the country to hunt tigers and supply tiger parts to traders and smugglers, primarily to satisfy demand in the Chinese market.

A poacher may get up to US$5,000 for a dead tiger, big money in his circumstances. Multiply this 10 times for the trader – the skin of a tiger alone can fetch up to US$35,000 in the Chinese market. Virtually every part of the tiger has commercial value, primarily for the perceived medicinal properties. Some of these claims are manifestly absurd – the brain of a tiger, worth US$2,000, is used to treat laziness, its whiskers, worth US$100 per strand, used to treat toothaches.

The second primary cause is the loss of habitat, resulting in the diminution of prey species and territory for tigers to operate. India produces 20 million new citizens a year, most of this population growth occurring in rural areas, which exist side by side with India’s forests, thereby causing lateral expansion of human habitat and consequently deforestation.

The almost weekly reports in the Indian media of human-tiger conflict in rural areas is testimony to this growing problem, as tigers are forced to move closer to humans in search of territory and food. This invariably has tragic consequences as villagers often kill tigers out of self-defence or to protect their livestock.

In addition, the Indian industry’s drive to acquire real estate and natural resources, which fuel India’s spectacular economic growth, also puts pressure on tiger habitat. Recently, the Indian prime minister personally intervened on this issue by writing to the state government of Maharashtra to request that crucial buffer areas be notified around the Tadoba Reserve to protect a tiger corridor from intrusion by India’s coal mining industry.

Does this mark the end of the Indian tiger? There is reason to be optimistic about its future, in view of the currently huge and ever-growing awareness among the Indian public of the need for action to save its beloved national animal.

But reforms still have to take place. One fundamental tenet, mirroring the African approach, is to ensure that there is economic value placed on the tiger’s survival. Some experts estimate that an adult tiger can rake in over US$100 million worth of eco-tourism revenue in its lifetime.

Eco-tourism also supports the livelihoods of local communities who then in turn have a stake in the tiger’s survival. In this regard, it is difficult to agree with the recent decision by India’s National Tiger Authority to phase out tourism in its tiger reserves. Apart from disregarding the obvious economic value, this decision also overlooks the importance of eco-tourism in curtailing poaching, with each vehicle operating as a sort of security unit against such activity.

Other reforms should necessarily include proper forest management and involvement of local communities in anti-poaching activities, use of intelligence and technology to track poachers and monitor tiger populations and protection of forests and buffer areas against urban development.

In terms of curbing the trade in tiger parts, some progress has been made through India’s efforts on the diplomatic front, resulting in the recent directive by the Chinese State Forestry Administration to step up action against illegal trade in tiger parts and products.

The fate of the Indian tiger is in the balance. Without active intervention by government and society to save it, we may never see the majesty and fearful symmetry of this magnificent beast in the Indian forests again.

By Prakash Pillai – From Business Times

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Brinda: implement Forest Act to prevent sale of land to corporates

Meet calls for end to displacement caused by developmental projects

NEW DELHI: The government’s “pro-corporate policies” came under attack at a two-day national convention on tribal rights that concluded here with participants calling for an end to displacement due to developmental projects.

In a resolution, the participants said that many States, including Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, were not implementing the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 as it would prevent the sale of forest land to corporate houses.

Addressing a press conference later, Brinda Karat, (CPI-M) Polit Bureau member, said a struggle against displacement would be launched across the country in July.

She announced the launch of a National Platform for Tribal Rights with participation from all tribal States. A special 42-member committee was constituted to coordinate between the States on issues related to tribal communities.

Ms. Karat said Maoists had reportedly struck a secret deal to hand over 10,000 acres of forest land to corporate houses in at least four districts of Jharkhand without the government’s knowledge. She said these districts were totally under their control.

Package for Adivasis

Demanding a special package for Adivasis, Ms. Karat said this was necessary as very few farmers were able to access the Centre’s farmer loan waiver scheme. The government should announce compensation in case of destruction of minor forest produce (MFP) like tendu patta as this was a major source of income for the tribal communities. Under the present criteria, MFP is not within the purview of compensation.

The resolution also demanded that BPL status be given to Adivasis. At present, they are outside the ambit of Below the Poverty Line category, as most of them have some landholdings.

From THE HINDU

Local body opposes move to privatise tourist facilities at Pichavaram

“An ill-advised move when revenue is leapfrogging”

PICHAVARAM: The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) has proposed to privatise the tourism facilities at Pichavaram, a scenic tourist spot renowned for the mangrove forests, near here.

In focus:A view of the Pichavaram mangrove forests near Chidambaram.

However, the Killai Town Panchayat, under whose jurisdiction Pichavaram falls, has opposed the proposal. Chairman of the Town Panchayat K. Ravichandran told The Hindu that it was an ill-advised move when the revenue from the tourism centre was leapfrogging.

Mr. Ravichandran said after the tourism promotion efforts were taken up the year-on-year revenue generation had gone up significantly; it fetched revenue of Rs.42 lakh in 2007-2008, Rs.61 lakh in 2008-2009 and Rs.92 lakh in 2009-2010 and it was bound to go up further in the coming years.

The Chairman said that for beautification and adding additional facilities such as a watchtower equipped with a telescope he got Rs.50 lakh sanctioned under the Heritage Town Project.

Utilising the funds an auditorium was built, ornamental lightings were put up for illumination and a compound wall was erected.

The annual Dawn Festival (Vidiyal Vizha), a tourism promotion endeavour to attract tourists for witnessing the sun rise through the thick mangrove forests from boats berthed in the backwaters, was being organised regularly, even though he had to meet the expenditure from his pockets.

When such was the case the TTDC had initiated measures to lease out the restaurant, boarding facility and bar there, except boating. Mr. Ravichandran said that about 40 boatmen operating oar and motorized boats used to take food in the restaurant but after privatisation they could not enjoy the benefit.

Moreover, leaving it to the market forces would jack up the prices of food, accommodation and cost of other services.

Mr. Ravichandran was wondering why the TTDC was fighting shy of running the hospitality section.

He pointed out that already it had failed to renew the lease for running the six cottages and two dormitories located across the waterways, deep into the mangrove forests. It had also not taken any steps to open its cottages at Chidambaram that remained closed for some time.

Mr. Ravichandran said that according to his information the TTDC had already leased out the Pichavaram facilities for a period of 15 years for nominal considerations.

He appealed to Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and Tourism Minister N. Suresh Rajan to review the proposal and rather hand it over to the local body to run the facilities and improve the amenities.

Tourism Officer G. Ramamurthy said that owing to manpower shortage the restaurant could not be run properly and at times the staffs were also deployed to ticket counters for booking boat rides.

If given to private parties they might build more number of rooms and cottages to accommodate more number of tourists, he said.

A.V. Ragunathan From The Hindu

Kerala EcoTourism: A night out in the forest!

After beaches, backwaters and massages, Kerala is offering tourists a night deep in the forest with members of the local Kani tribe.

“Vanavasam” (forest stay), the latest tourism lure of Kerala, is becoming a hit, says MA Altaf, head of new travel and tour company Vyomayan Holidays.

The scheme was launched in the forests of Thiruvananthapuram district and is now spreading to the forests in Wayanad and Idukki districts, said Altaf, former country manager of a leading international airline.

“This tourism product is the outcome of team work by the state-owned Kerala Forest Development Corporation (KFDC) and Pugmark, an organisation of retired senior forest department officials,” Altaf said.

“We are the facilitators between the tourists and these two organisations. Our role is to get the tourists. Then the two organisations take over to give the tourists a unique experience deep inside the forests, mingling with the tribes there.”

The first destinations in the package are the forests in Kottoor and Arippa, each about 50 km from this state capital.

“Tourists have an option of either staying in the rooms of the KFDC. Or they can stay in tents. Those who opt for a night package are treated to the cultural programmes of the local tribes. The local cuisine is served and the tourists can choose their food because we have a cook at our beck and call,” said Altaf.

There are various add-ons. Those interested in exploring the flora and fauna are free to do so. There is an expert accompanying the tourists who holds classes in bird watching and wildlife, besides the butterflies which are in profusion in the area.

“We are not looking into margins and our business model in this eco-tourism product is a win-win situation for all the players. Our prime concern is protection of the environment besides the upliftment of the tribal community and value for money for the tourists,” said Altaf.

The success of the first destination has prompted the firm to go into the forests near Munnar and Wayanad and similar packages are now ready there.

“This is a product for nature lovers only and not for every tourist who arrives in our state. And we want it to be that way because only the real nature lover will enjoy this,” added Altaf.

There are day-long packages and one-night-two-day packages that cost between Rs 1,700 and Rs 3,300 per head.

From TOI

‘Trees Outside the Forests’ project gets good response

Coimbatore: During 2009-2010 nearly one lakh teak seedlings have been planted in farmlands in Coimbatore District by the Forest Division and Social Forestry Division under the project, ‘Tree Cultivation in Private Lands’. The project is also called the ‘Trees Outside the Forests’.

Green cover

The initiative implemented as part of a State-wide scheme was carried out by Conservator of Forests, Coimbatore Circle, R. Kannan and District Forest Officer, I. Anwardeen in an effort to increase the green cover of the district and to provide economic gains to farmers.

Totally 262 farmers were benefitted in one year.

Another 50,000 seedlings have been distributed free of cost to farmers by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department under the same scheme.

Large scale plantation

Mr. Anwardeen said that Mr.Kannan had provided all logistical assistance, guidance and impetus for the scheme and Tamil Nadu is the pioneer State to implement this large scale tree plantation initiative by the Forest Department.

During 2009-10 about 91 lakh casuarinas, teak and other seedlings were planted in the farmlands of Tamil Nadu by the department.

The tree cover outside the forest area in Tamil Nadu is estimated to be 3.82 per cent of the geographical area as per Forest Survey of India 2009 report and the national average is 2.82 per cent.

Drip irrigation

The forest cover of the State is 17.94. Many farmers have opted for even drip irrigation for the teak plantations which are grown as intercrop agro forestry model. These trees over a period would help in keeping the environment clean, studies said.

The trees grown will enhance financial benefits to farmers and increate the area under tree cover in the State.

Timber

Timber produced from the farmlands will meet the demand of the future.

It is estimated that the industrial demand of the country is likely to increase from 58 million cu.m. in 2000 to 153 million cu.m. in 2020.

The import of timber and timber products had increased substantially from 2.45 million cu.m in. in 2001 to 16.7 million cu.m. in 2008.

The trees grown now would help in meeting the timber needs and reducing import.

V.S. Palaniappan from THE HINDU

Ooty: Action plan to combat bush fires

Udhagamandalam: An action plan has been drawn up to prevent the occurrence of bush fires during the current dry season, said the Conservator of Forests, Coimbatore, R. Kannan while speaking to presspersons here on Saturday.

Instructions have been issued to all the divisions to accord high priority to combat bush fires. He added that stringent action will be taken against people who started bush fires.

Measures

A number of steps are being taken to reduce man-elephant conflict. Pointing out that the areas affected include Coimbatore, Sathyamangalam, Sirumugai, Mettupalayam and Thadagam, he said that farmers have been requested to change agricultural practices in areas bordering the forests.

Fence

Solar fences have also been erected in places prone to such conflicts. To another query, he said that a system of de-worming wild elephants has been put in place.

When asked about the proposed public hearing with regard to the recent publication of a map of the Elephant Corridor in the Sigur Plateau of the Nilgiris district, Mr. Kannan said that so far about 150 objections have been received.

He added that along the Kallar-Jakkanarai elephant corridor some persons have offered to hand over 69 acres to the forest department.

The value of trees and land were in the process of being assessed.

From THE HINDU

Ooty: Prevent illegal activities in forests

Udhagamandalam: Forest officials should take more care in protecting forests, said the CPI(M), the Nilgiris chapter.

In a statement issued here the district secretary of the party R. Badri alleged that illegal activities were taking place in forest areas with the connivance of forest officials.

Nothing tangible had been done even after bringing it to the notice of the government, he said. Permission given to remove dangerous roadside trees was being misused.

He alleged that under the guise of removing trees which had been declared as dangerous, valuable trees were being cut. Appropriate action should be taken against people who were in illegal possession of wildlife trophies.

From THE HINDU