Experts demand separate wildlife cadre to save tigers


New Delhi : Terming the dwindling tiger population in the country "alarming and a national crisis", experts Thursday demanded a separate wildlife protection cadre on the lines of the Rapid Action Force.

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"The government was planning to set up a wildlife crime control bureau but nothing has happened so far. The partial tiger report published by Wildlife Institute of India should wake up the authorities from their slumber," said Tito Joseph, a senior project officer of Wildlife Protection Society of India.

Renowned tiger expert Raghu Chundawat said India needs a dedicated wildlife cadre as early as possible.

"An autonomous body under a senior Indian Police Service official is the need of the time. A wildlife protection cadre on the line of Rapid Action Force should be formed immediately," Chundawat told IANS.

In its partial tiger report, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has recorded that there are only 490 tigers in the 16 reserves of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. The 2002 census had recorded 1233 tigers in these states.

Though the ministry of environment and forest has termed the report unofficial, experts rubbished the government's stand.

"The government has sanctioned Rs 130 million for the census and the WII is a part of the ministry. Now how can they term it unofficial? It's glimpse of their casual attitude towards a grave problem," said Chundawat.

He said the institute used camera and pugmark photography method apart from the traditional pugmark counting for the report. They have captured the images of the big cats, taken into account the prey animal numbers and poaching factor more seriously, he explained.

"Though there were a few glitches in the report yet it's trustworthy and almost accurate," Chundawat added.

The WII report had said the number of tigers in Madhya Pradesh has gone down to 276 in 2007 from 710 in 2002, which is a decline of 61 percent. Similarly, in Maharashtra there were only 102 tigers as against 238 in 2002.

While Rajasthan is home to 32 tigers now as against 58 five years back, Chhattisgarh has 26 tigers as against a 227 during last census. The counting at the Indravati reserve in Chhattisgarh is still going on.

Ashok Kumar, vice chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India also expressed his disappointment over the alarming situation and said the government needs to be quick in addressing the issue.

"Otherwise we will read about tigers in our history books," he said.

Kumar said conservation methods used by the government are archaic and patrolling needs to be strengthened. "Apart from vehicle patrolling, they need to go for foot patrolling and the intelligence gathering mechanism needs to be strengthened to stop poaching," he said.

"To stop poisoning of tigers and human-animal conflict, government should give some compensation to villagers whose cattle were preyed by tigers. Thus they can avoid poisoning of tigers by village people," Kumar said.

"Nearly 25 percent vacancies of forest guards need to be filled immediately," he added.

Elaborating further, Chundawat said the ministry of environment and forest should be converted into two separate ministries.

"The ministry is now only working as a environmental clearance certificate providing agency. The focus is not on wildlife but on providing no objection certificates to industries. We need a separate ministry for wildlife protection," Chundawat said.