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Tiger task force calls for red alert
Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi | May 20, 2005 02:05 IST
While asserting that there was no quick fix solution for conservation of tigers in India, the Tiger Task Force on Thursday called for a red alert during the monsoon when poaching in the forests generally increases.
Environmentalist Sunita Narain, who heads the task force, said: "As a short-term measure, we want the red flags out there (in the forest reserves). We all know the monsoon is a bad season for tigers. Since there are different situations and different needs, we cannot give blanket advice for all the reserves. There is no quick fix solution. We are looking at long term measures."
The task force, set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, will be writing to the government to ask all the states and forest reserves to be on alert. The five-member task force, set up after the alarming disclosure that tigers had disappeared from the Sariska Reserve in Rajasthan, has been charged with reviewing programmes to protect the tiger.
Project Tiger Director Rajesh Gopal said there was need for the deployment of police force in sensitive areas. There should be monsoon patrolling to monitor the activity of the poachers.
He said the poachers' networks were now far more closely-knit than five years ago. They have international links and it was difficult to gather information about them.
Reacting to the government's submission in the Supreme Court that there would be no Central Bureau Investigation inquiry into poaching of tigers across the country, Narain said, "We believe states have powers and capabilities to tackle the problem and there should not be any Central interference."
She expressed hope that the yet-to-be formed Wildlife Crime Bureau would be able to curb poaching across the country.
The task force says Indian tigers face huge challenges like extensive and highly-organised international poaching networks, lack of professional law enforcement to break through international crime, abysmally low conviction rate for poaching offenders and most importantly, increasing hostility of local communities who share the tiger's habitat because of years of mismanagement and conservation policies that exclude people from protected areas.
It is clear that the tiger crisis needs serious and considered response.
The current tiger conservation strategies, the task force says, have failed on all fronts-- from setting up enforcement networks capable of breaking organised wildlife crime to creating conditions, which have involve people in wildlife conservation without which there is increased conflict and anger around all our tiger reserves.
During their discussion with the task force, experts said the recent government's ruling that the traditional rights of the local people to collect minor forest product cannot be enjoyed in protected areas has increased the conflict enormously.
Under this direction, roughly 3.5-4 million people living inside and at the fringes of protected areas have lost all sources of livelihood and revenue, which has exacerbated destitution and in turn their anger against the tiger.
The exclusion of the communities in management of forest and wildlife resources affects the gathering of intelligence and information, which is critical to preventing poaching, an expert commented.
Illegal trade in tiger parts is highly organized, agree experts. They say that events in Sariska reveal that this organised international trade moves via Nepal to Tibet and China. In recent years the tiger skin trade is back in fashion and investigations have tracked tiger furs in markets of Tibet, where it is used as traditional clothing. The increased economic affluence in Tibet and China is clearly spurring this trade comment national and international experts.
They point out that current systems to undertake criminal investigations and enforcement are abysmally poor and grossly inadequate. What is needed urgently is to set up a multi-disciplinary and professional task force for wildlife law enforcement, which will be charged to follow up the investigations across borders and in major city markets of the country.
But experts also voiced their disquiet over the current proposal of the government to set up such a wildlife crime bureau on the lines of the narcotic bureau. The proposal that is currently being discussed by government authorities will require setting up a multi-agency unit, staffed with 285 people, with budget of Rs 163 crore spread over 5 years. Experts suggested a `lean and mean' organisational structure, which could track crime, manage databases and follow through on investigations. The agency needed to build strong networks with the local law enforcement and forest officials so that they could gather intelligence and investigate offences.
The official database reveals 114 tiger deaths due to poaching in five years between 1999-2003 and 238 items of tiger parts seized in 211 cases in the same period. The unofficial database reveals higher estimates. But it is difficult to analyse the exact difference because of varying systems of classification and categorisation in the different database. The problem experts point out is that there is no coordinated and corroborated database of the seizures, which can be used for further investigation.
It is also clear that wildlife offenders have long criminal records. Experts argue that investigations carried out based on the long term offenders will crack many cases and can effectively destroy the networks, which are out to wipe out our wildlife species.
But this will also require legal reforms to ensure that people who are arrested in wildlife crime are tried and convicted speedily.
How many tigers do we have? The fact is that unless we have ways to count the tigers in the wild, which are reliable and scientifically verifiable, we really do not know, the experts said.
Experts agreed that there was a need to change the current "pug-mark" system, in which the pug prints of animals are tracked and cast to estimate numbers. A number of different methodologies are now being developed and all the top experts, working in the field made presentations to the task force, pointing to the advantages and disadvantages of the different systems. The task force will review the different options to suggest what should be done and in particular, how data on tiger conservation can be made transparent and put in the public domain.