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Sariska tigers missing or dead?

By Our Staff Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MARCH 11. In September 2004, a group of students from the Dehra Dun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) went to the Sariska Tiger Reserve of Rajasthan for training. They painstakingly trekked through 866 sq.km of the hilly reserve, but could not spot a single tiger. This brought the issue of the missing tigers to light.

The Sariska field directorate conducted their last census in May 2004. It revealed that the number of tigers had plummeted to 16-18 from 25-28 in 2003. "Tigers were last spotted by officials on November 28, 2004," the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) team that visited the forest reserve quoted Priya Ranjan, Deputy Conservator of Sariska Forests, as saying.

`Lax attitude'

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests — which spearheads Project Tiger, spread over 27 reserves in the country including Sariska — has already ordered an intensive combing exercise from February 1, 2005, a CSE report says.

The CSE team visited a score villages, including Dabli, Umri and Deori and Rajgarh, Tehla, Mandalwas, Akbarpur and Kalikhol towns. In most places, villagers endorsed what everyone feared: that there were not any tigers left in Sariska. "Lax attitude killed the naars (tigers)," said Kajori Mai of Mandalwas village.

Umri village lies by densely forested areas and is far away from the pucca road. Most of its residents survive by selling milk. "The forest department is harassing us day after day. If we tell you anything, we will get into trouble," said Badami, a 50-year-old. Once that fear was dispelled by the CSE team, they were less reticent.

"At present, four people from the village are helping the department in its tiger hunt. But not even a single pugmark has been found," said Sultan. Shravan, a youngster, had another opinion: "God knows why the forest department is making a hullabaloo, when they know that the tiger population has been very low since the past few years." The villagers said in the past six months, they had not even heard the roar of a tiger. The CSE report blames the forest department for the loss.

Occasional patrolling

A visit to the nearby naka (forest outpost) confirmed what the villagers said. Three guards were busy with their personal chores at a time when a "gruelling combing drive" of the forest department was on. When questioned, one of the guards said they occasionally patrolled the area. "Whenever there is firing, we go out and check. But obviously poachers never fire near a naka," he added. Another guard said it was impossible to confront gun-toting hunters with just lathis.

A guard in the Kalighati naka told the team that scant attention was paid last year when a sudden drop in the tiger population was brought to the authorities' notice. Ten tigers could have been saved if there were better security arrangements along the exit and entry points to check poaching. "Poaching is bound to happen. Some nakas, situated where maximum infiltration can take place, remain closed," he added.

The least one can expect is that Sariska should be treated as a reserve. Entry is free every Tuesday and Saturday for those visiting the Pandupole temple inside.

The State highway number 13, from Alwar to Jaipur, runs for about 30 km through the reserve. The resultant traffic had also killed many animals, the report said.

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