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Tiger reintroduction may not be a boon always, here’s why

Financial Chronicle, New Delhi, 13th February, 2013
Article by: Dharmendra Khandal 

Recently, two tiger reserves — Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan and Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, have reintroduced tigers, after the resident tigers were poached. Sariska has introduced tigers from only Ranthambhore, while Panna has got its tigers from three different areas of Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench tiger reserves. The first tiger reintroduced in Sariska was in June 2008, while Panna did that in March 2009. Total eight tigers have been introduced to Sariska, while Panna has got five tigers.

Now the total figure of tigers in Sariska is nine and in Panna it’s 17. These figures clearly indicate that the Panna story is completely a turnaround and tigers are gaining ground once again. This has been possible due to strong headed and committed field director of Panna, R Sreenivsa Murthy and his highly motivated team. Once, when the only newly introduced male moved out from the park, Murthy followed him with his team of 70 guards and got him back to the reserve after 50 days of monitoring and search operation. The tiger was heading towards his earlier home in Pench. Such initiatives have made him the leader of ground staff.

On the other hand, Sariska has always been unfortunate in leadership. The officials are more interested in earth moving works in the area, than the real conservation work for the tigers. These construction works have always created disturbance in the tiger habitat. They have not been able to settle for breeding. I personally filed a petition in the Supreme Court empowered committee to stop the unnecessary construction, and the committee stopped it immediately. However, by that time, the officials had disturbed the area immensely.

Furthermore, one of the introduced tigers was poisoned by villagers, which indicates that they were not monitoring them thoroughly. Also, the initial selection process of tiger relocation for Sariska was also very hasty; they selected siblings for the introduction. Sibling selection means weak gene pool, which would lead them to genetic problem and the future generations in Sariska could be genetically compromised. Their selections of tigers have also created trouble for the source population of Ranthambhore. They picked a resident male, and he was fathering two small cubs. When they picked the male, his cubs and tigress moved outside the park because of pressure from other male tigers. They reached in a danger zone and finally she lost both the cubs. All these setbacks indicate that the involved people were not very sincere.

In India, conservation is solely controlled by forest officials or scientists of government institutes. They could be good and can do wonderful job like Murthy, or else, they can convert it into a disaster like Sariska. However, a good shift is seen in our country as many people trained in wildlife are emerging and have started questioning decision makers. The need of the hour is responsible and aware officers, who make right decisions in saving the crucial and limited wildlife in the nation.

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