(ARTICLE) Panna Tigers in Trouble : Sanctuary Magazine

(ARTICLE) Panna Tigers in Trouble : Sanctuary Magazine

tigers in trouble

They need us now

Project Tiger, which was once led by brave and capable people such as Kailash Sankhala, now suffers from a leadership crisis. The latest news is that we have fewer wild tigers alive today than on the day Project Tiger was started in 1973. This is a matter of great shame for all those whose responsibility it was to save the cat, including our Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers of states in which tigers are found. The many conservationists and large NGOs will also be blamed by the future generation for failing the tiger. In truth, all of India itself has failed the tiger.
Why are things suddenly so bad for the tiger? It has not been sudden. Tiger numbers have fallen gradually each year since 1990. India now has less than 1,500 tigers left alive. This means we have lost over 2,300 tigers in the last five years. And even if the number of tigers was less than 3,500 around the year 2000 because forest officers had distorted census figures, the fact is today’s numbers are horribly low.

Who is killing our tigers?
Poachers of course are to blame first. But large companies that mine or dam forests in which tigers live and who profit from the sale of trees are equally guilty. In fact, destroying the forest is the surest way to wipe out tigers forever.

Who is financing the poachers?
International crime syndicates and gangs are financing people to kill tigers, elephants, rhinos and almost any other species that can be sold for cash. Even the famous Kaziranga National Park has not been spared. Here, we have lost over 20 rhinos in 2007.

What does the latest report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority say?
In 1973, when the number of tigers in India was estimated to be just over 1,700, the whole world said that tigers were in grave danger and Project Tiger was launched. The new report from the National Tiger Conservation Authority suggests that in some tiger reserves such as Corbett, Kaziranga, Nagarahole, Kanha and Tadoba, the tiger is safe, but outside such protected forests and in forests where human beings still live, tigers have almost vanished, or are likely to vanish in a very short while. The report says that today we may have less than 1,500 tigers left alive. The fact is that tigers are relatively safe in those reserves where there are no humans or very few humans. In others, such as Palamau and Namdapha, they have virtually been wiped out. In 2004, Sariska lost all its tigers. In Panna, not a single tiger cub has been born seen since 2002 and over 50 per cent of the park seems to have no tigers at all. There was one breeding tigress in there, but even she has been missing since the middle of 2007. Late last year, traps and snares were discovered in the core area of the Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh where everyone thought the cats were totally safe. Tiger skins regularly end up in shipments of wildlife contraband bound for far-eastern countries, including China, Japan and Hong Kong.

What are the other threats to the tiger?
Almost every forest in India is under attack from agriculture, cattle grazing and commercial projects including dams, coal mines, four-lane highways, thermal plants, cement factories, steel plants, ports and even nuclear reactors. Those who truly love wildlife are not empowered to save the tiger and those in whose hands we have left the tiger seem not to care about the cat.

What is wrong with the Forest Rights Act?
With this dangerous new law in place, people have already started moving into wildlife areas to cut down trees and claim land. This will not only result in the death of tigers and other wildlife, but will make our existing climate change problem even worse. Over 25 per cent of all greenhouse gasses released by India are a result of deforestation. This situation will worsen and, potentially, 7.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide could be spewed into the air. This will also affect our lakes and rivers and, therefore, our agriculture. Sadly, when land is given to local communities, it will quickly be sold, or snatched away, leaving them as poor as they were before. So the Forest Rights Act will end up helping neither forest dwellers, nor wildlife.

Can’t the MoEF do anything?
That is what they were set up to do, but instead of protecting forests, the ministry has become a tool in the hands of politicians who ‘somehow’ manage to convince the ministry to approve very destructive industrial projects. Over 15,000 hectares of forestland was destroyed with the permission of the MoEF for 49 industrial projects, including mining, irrigation and windmills. This could mean cutting down around three million trees. Additionally, lakhs of trees are being cut for state and central government projects that need 40 hectares of land or less.

What can an individual do?
To start with, write a letter to the Prime Minister. Also write to newspapers, Chief Ministers, Forest Ministers and government officials and speak to friends and teachers. Photocopy these pages and ask your principal to highlight the issue during your school assembly. Ask them to write to Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Magazine, if they need any clarification, or if they need help to run their campaigns locally.

How can you help right now?
You can be a part of a save the tiger campaign being run on NDTV that is supported by Sanctuary and Kids for Tigers. We want to collect one million signatures to save the tiger, so we can convince our Prime Minister to act before it is too late. We want the Prime Minister to hold an emergency meeting of the National Board for Wildlife to consider the latest threat to the tiger. We do not want any more promises from the Prime Minister.
We want action and we want it now.

Bittu Sahgal,
Editor, Sanctuary Magazine,
146, Pragati Industrial Estate,
N.M. Joshi Marg,
Lower Parel,
Mumbai 400 011
Email: bittu<at>sanctuaryasia.com