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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

Modi ‘New’Speak

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

A long posting in Rajasthan had provided several opportunities to visit the tiger sanctuary at Sariska in Alwar district. But only once did one come very close to spotting the tiger when the accompanying guide ordered the jeep to virtual standstill and demanded total silence from the small party of journalists on a late night tour of the sanctuary as a tiger was prowling nearby. Flashlights were strictly forbidden, but a couple of colleagues claimed what the rest could not: they had actually seen the big cat.

In fact, among friends and acquaintances who visited Sariska only a few would return with the satisfaction of having seen India’s national animal in the deciduous jungles of Sariska. It was already being said that poaching, lax rules, corrupt officials and generally nebulous awareness about ecology had combined to risk the tiger population in the Sariska jungles.

That was about a quarter century ago. But it was only around 2004 that it was officially accepted that the nearly 900-km Sariska tiger sanctuary has zero population of tiger. That shocked both the animal lovers as well as the government in Jaipur. The officialdom did some hectic planning to make the Sariska sanctuary alive with its most famous denizen.

The first step in that move was made on June 28 when a 220-kg, three-and-half-year old unnamed male tiger, lulled with tranquilliser shots, was put in a special cage and flown in an Indian Air Force MI-17 helicopter from the other famous tiger sanctuary of Rajasthan, Ranthambore in Sawai Madhopur district, to Sariska. Ranthambore, it is said, is saddled with the problem of tiger over-population.

It was the beginning of the keenly anticipated operation to relocate the tiger at Sariska. It was made possible with the joint efforts of a host of agencies, including the governments of India and the state of Rajasthan and the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. It is by no means an easy task because all previous experiments in other parts of the world had failed to rear or relocate tigers in sanctuaries where they had once become extinct.

The tiger, it is said, likes to stick to its ‘native’ place. Tigers, relocated to sanctuaries where they had become extinct, somehow found their way back to their original home even if it was hundreds of kilometres away. The distance between Ranthambore and Sariska is short; the tiger that was brought to Sariska on June 28 had only a 40-minute helicopter ride from Ranthambore.

Authorities say that measures have been taken to see that the Ranthambore tiger—a legal but perhaps an unwilling migrant—stays on in his new home. He will have a female companion as well as a male rival and eventually five of them will be making their new home in Sariska. The migrant tigers will first stay in a special one hectare enclosure, which will be gradually expanded. To monitor the movements of the tigers a tracking device will be collared to each one of them. The similarities in the topography and ecology of the sanctuaries in Ranthambore and Sariska might appeal to the new arrivals in Sariska. The target is to have a tiger population of 21 at Sariska.

The Ranthambore tigers might prove the pessimists wrong and Sariska might look like breaking the jinx against rearing tigers from another habitat, but there are still problems that do not permit unbridled optimism.

Poaching has been acknowledged as the primary factor that brought a bad name to Sariska, robbing it of its tiger population. The dimensions of poaching have only spread further in recent years. There is an international market, illegal though it may be, for all parts of the tiger. China has reportedly taken to ‘tiger farming’. Tiger population worldwide is down.

The poachers in India and elsewhere are no ordinary bandits; they are well organised and well connected gangs. It is not easy to be convinced that the poachers will now find it impossible to resume their business in Sariska.

There are two factors at Sariska that might again help the poachers. As can be imagined a sanctuary spread over a large area has human settlements within its confines. Media reports have suggested that the number of these settlements—of varying size—could be anywhere from 10 to 30. Even if most of them are small hamlets the human population within the tiger reserve area is not insignificant.

The state government had reportedly started the preparations for welcoming tigers at Sariska from other sanctuaries at least two years ago. It has been reported that these preparations had become more hectic about six months ago. During all that time only one village population is reported to have been moved out of Sariska. Even that is said to have encountered a problem: the villagers are not satisfied with the package offered to them. They want more cash.

The people living within the Sariska sanctuary area do not welcome the government’s decision to restrict the movement of motorised transport through the two roads that pass through the tiger territory. These are important roads that link the sanctuary to the state capital, Jaipur, and the nearest town, the district headquarters at Alwar. There is bound to be pressure from powerful lobbies against imposition of curbs on the movement of traffic through the sanctuary. In the ‘election year’—the state assembly polls are due later this year—it will be virtually impossible for the state administration to displease these lobbies.

There is, however, one more ‘lobby’ which must surely be many times more influential in the BJP-ruled state. Two temples inside the sanctuary attract thousands of devotees. Some of the rituals they perform are not considered friendly by ecologists and animal-lovers. But the state government will obviously not agree to prevent the devotees from performing their rituals.

It stands to reason that the state government would not have put its heart in the revival of Sariska’s glory if it was not better equipped to prevent the mistakes of the past that had led to annihilation of its tiger population. Sariska can again be counted among the premier tiger sanctuaries in the country if the tigers from Ranthambore start to multiply in their new homes and the state forest and law enforcing agencies are able to curb human activities that are unfriendly towards the tiger.

- Syndicate Features -

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