Press on Environment and Wildlife
Counting of Tigers (September Week 1(2005)) The Times of India gave prominence to the proposed tiger census. Here are relevant excerpts.
Amid doubts and scepticism, the government spent the day telling top wildlife officials from all states about the changes in the rules of the game when they get down to estimating tigers, leopards and major prey from November 2005 in a nationwide census organised every four years. The Centre will not involve NGOs, with whom it has had a running battle on tiger counts, but states are free to do so.
It called state officials for the first time Monday to prepare them for the new census system devised with the help of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and decide training schedules so every state is ready to do the count-or, rather, estimation-the way it wants.
Ensnared in a tiger count controversy for much of the year, Project Tiger chief Rajesh Gopal says the entire process will be overseen by a panel from abroad. The names are still being finalised.
"It's clear we need a different method," said additional director-general (wildlife) R P S Katwal. "Anything new has teething problems but it's achievable, it's just a question of changing the mindsets of forest guards." Some officials had reservations, believing it would need much more money, men and expertise than the Centre seemed to believe or that it may need to be modified for difficult terrain such as the Sundarbans. Centrally-funded exercise will cover all areas controlled by forest departments. It may need more than 82,000 officials covering over 41,000 territorial beats-each beat is about 25-30 sq km. Each state will decide a period between November and February when it wants to do the census. Primary data collection will take eight days.
Each of 17 tiger states may get upto Rs 50 lakh to do the work, non-tiger states will get money for the estimation of leopards and other animals. By next June, WII scientists say they should have an accurate estimate of tigers, to some extent leopards, some important species such as cheetal, sambhar, neelgai, wild dog and sloth bear, as well as vegetation quality and human disturbance.
Stage One consists of spatial mapping and monitoring of tigers, prey and habitat. Then, scientists will estimate density by setting camera traps and using a refined pugmark method in the mark-recapture framework. They won't take casts of pugmarks but photograph them. Densities will be correlated with relative abundance and scientists will come up with a range-an upper and lower limit, with scientists taking the middle number. Within reserves, scientists would like to monitor numbers annually, maintaining photo IDs of tigers.
Plastic ban is alright, but the alternatives don’t look brighter (September Week 1(2005)) A week after the government pronounced a blanket ban on plastic bags and pouches of all thicknesses, consumers are not the only ones unsure of how their lives will change. Retailers of high-end cloth stores, too, are in the dark over the implications.
‘‘We use virgin-quality plastic for milk pouches that you will never find clogging drains because of their high recyclable value,’’ says R S Sodhi Chief General Manager of Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), whose marketing unit Amul supplies 25 lakh litres of milk per day to the city.
‘‘Does Mumbai want to go back two decades when less hygienic, costlier milk bottles were used?’’ he asked.
His view was echoed by Chief Executive Officer of Pantaloons, Kishore Biyani. ‘‘It does not make economic sense to revert to using paper bags which will be three to five times more expensive. The consumer will have to bear the cost.’’ Pantaloons has not yet taken any step to substitute plastic carry bags.
As the proposed ban allows manufacturers to continue production for sale outside the State, it is the retailers who are caught in a bind. ‘‘We have sent a letter to the chief minister seeking a review of this blanket ban. We will try to meet and convince him to consider doing this in phases,’’ said Gibson Vaidmani, CEO Retailers Associaition of India.
Though the State’s proposal was announced on August 26, it is yet to be notified. A month will be given for appeals and suggestions after the notification before the proposal can be made a law.
Kunkis helping in reducing man-elephant conflict (September Week 1(2005)) The Assam Tribune reported the on the continued practice of using “Kunkies".
Groups of tame elephants called kunkis have been able to lower the raids made by their wild cousins into some areas situated on the north bank of the Brahmaputra. The novel measure was implemented as part of the Human Elephant Conflict Mitigation Strategy, under the North Bank Landscape Project of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The number of persons killed by wild elephants in Sonitpur district was more than 25 in 2003, while the number of elephants killed was close to 30 in 2001. The fatalities dropped after the kunkis were introduced last year. That year the number of persons who died was less than 15, while 10 elephants were killed.
The kunkis are at the core of the anti-depredation squads, which have been formed with support from the WWF. The State Forest department is in charge of the tame elephants, which have been stationed in strategically chosen places where frequent elephant raids have occurred.
Till now, 50 anti-depredation units have been formed, which comprise forest staff, searchlights, sound generators and mahouts manning the kunkis. More than 213 raids have been conducted to prevent wild elephants from causing damage to human settlements.
The operations are planned in meticulous detail with information about appearance of wild elephants being relayed to forest department and local people. The kunkis then proceed to the site that needs to be protected. The presence of the kunkis along with artificial lights and sounds has a restraining effect on the wild elephants.
The majority of the people residing in the areas of human elephant conflict have appreciated the work of the anti-depredation squads. The Forest department also seems to have found a proven method to halt the threat from wild elephants, which had eroded public support for them.
However, the results of the effort are yet to be seen in other areas. Even within the Sonitpur district, there are areas, where shortage of manpower and kunkis has inhibited anti-depredation drives. Recently, training was imparted to members of the anti-depredation staff so that their skills could be better utillised under trying circumstances.
The North Bank Landscape in Assam has lost out close to 65 per cent of forests between1972-2004.
Bhitarkanika forest officials on save mangrove mission (September Week 1(2005)) The Pioneer did a story on the dying mangroves of Orissa.
In an effort to retain the fast decaying mangrove cover in Bhitarkanika, due to biotic pressure and man-made threats, the Forest Department has started regenerating mangrove in the coastal patches of Kendrapara.
Locals have destroyed the thick mangrove cover and converted it into paddy fields, using it for fuel-wood, honey, medicine and timber.
Rs 55 lakh, funded by the Orissa Government, was spent by the Forest Department in the past three years in planting mangrove species in 564 hectare of land at coastal patches of the district, informed a Rajnagar (mangrove) forest official.
As per official sources, the State Government provided funds to plant mangrove vegetation in coastal pockets to save the coastal ecology and to save the flora and fauna of the Bhitarkanika National Park.
Mangroves protect the coast and its nearby areas from the wrath of nature as they stand as a barrier against all natural calamities and prevent soil erosion and protect watershed at river mouths and seashores.
Mangroves have the capacity to check erosion as its deep-root system acts as a barrier against tidal waves and sea currents.
Due to depletion of mangrove forests, the coast and its nearby areas have become susceptible to natural disasters. This has led the Forest Department regenerate mangroves in these areas, official sources said.
According to official sources, the 262.5km-stretch mangrove forest of Bhitarkanika, the second largest in the country, next to Sunderban in West Bengal, is fast vanishing.
These forests, which were once enriched with flora and fauna, are being subjected to mass destruction due to excessive human settlements and mushrooming prawn farms.
Mangroves also play an important role in the growth of estuarine fishery resources. The decaying twigs and leaves make the soil more porous. But due to the decrease in mangrove vegetation, land has already lost its fertility and turned barren in coastal pockets.
Mangroves also treat the effluent, which come from fertiliser factories, by absorbing the nitrates and phosphates and reducing the salinity of the riverbanks and shores, informed the DFO of Rajnagar Forest Division, AK Jena.
According to official sources, the biggest reason behind decaying mangrove cover is the on-shore dollar-spinning prawn business and commercial fishing. Locals are encroaching into the forestland by denuding the green mangrove cover to earn a fast buck.
Cheetahs to dot Indian landscape (September Week 1(2005)) The Hindu reported the progress on the cheetah experiment.
The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), a premier research institute based in Hyderabad, has embarked on cloning of cheetahs.
The CCMB deputy director Ch. Mohan Rao, who was here to attend a programme, told The Hindu that the project was aimed at reviving the endangered species by collecting tissues from the Indian cheetahs available in Iran for cloning with the help of local female tigers. Nuclei drawn from the foreign tissues would be transplanted in the emptied eggs of female tigers and the tigers in turn will conceive the source DNA, resulting in production of the prototypes of cheetahs, Mr. Mohan Rao explained.
The CCMB has already secured permission from the Iranian Government for use of the tissues of its cheetahs for cloning. Mr. Rao said extinction of cheetahs from the Indian landscape had forced the CCMB to seek the tissues from Iran. It is proposed to set up a laboratory for conservation of endangered animals (LACONS), sperm and germ banks as part of the cloning project. The project is expected to be flagged off by the President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in six months, he informed. It may be recalled that the CCMB has made a breakthrough in therapeutic cloning for treatment of diabetic patients by preparing insulin with the help of tissues collected from the pancreas of pigs.
"The project will help us demonstrate our capability building in the cheetah cloning," Mr. Rao said. Admitting there was more chances of transplant rejections leading to poor survival rate in the cloned animals, he added, "We will do our best to achieve a breakthrough."
Tiger task force report critiqued (Issue of the week, August Week 4 (2005)) Tiger task force report critiqued
The report of tiger task force has been submitted and has attracted a lot of controversy. In an article that appeared in the August 17th issue of The Hindu, K. Ullas Karanth, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society-India Programme, comments on the same and makes his stand clear that tigers and humans cannot co-exist from an ecological perspective. Following is the detailed interview:
What is your assessment of the report of the Tiger Task Force?
Overall, the report has pluses and minuses. There are some very good points that are really positive, and there are some really bad points.
The Tiger Task Force report has generated a lot of controversy. What are the good points you see in it?
The approach is very transparent, and the report has been put on the web. This is very critical as it can be studied, taken apart, and commented upon. In the past such reports were never made public. There is also the suggestion that wildlife reserve management plans and annual plans will be placed in the public domain. In the absence of such transparency and critiquing, a lot mismanagement of tiger habitats is taking place, either through corruption or ignorance.
The other important good point is clearly the recognition that for maintaining a viable breeding population of wild tigers, there must be inviolate places. The report mentions some 37,000 sq. km. in tiger reserves as such potential inviolate space in all our protected areas, but actually there should be more than this. The way the report identifies potential inviolate areas is flawed, but its unanimous emphasis on absolutely inviolate critical tiger habitats is positive.
Also, this report has discredited the total count pugmark census fully and recognises clearly the scientific consensus that we should switch to sampling methods.
It also talks about raising money from end users of forest and wildlife, whether it is irrigation, or mining, dams, tourism, etc., to pay more for tiger conservation. This approach is excellent, and added to the money that would be saved in development sectors through carefully targeted village relocations out of tiger habitats, this can generate sufficient money for that process.
Where has the Task Force lost the opportunities?
There is very good data available on the tiger, on prey densities and population dynamics from Nepal and India where some of us have conducted long-term ecological studies. The Task Force has not really gone into the question of how much inviolate space is needed for the tiger for a viable population, using such good science as a basis. The panel has swallowed hook, line, and sinker the Project Tiger directorate's science-deficient approach for estimating necessary or feasible areas to be kept inviolate.
Secondly, for the past decade forest department-led eco-development projects have been a big distraction, drawing attention and energies away from protection and breeding massive corruption. The Task Force criticises this but then does not take a clear and strong position to end this pursuit of eco-development by the forest department and the consultancy lobbies that back it big time. The Task Force also does not fix responsibility for the gross failure of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. During the 1970s till 1990s the project focus was on protection, while in the 1990s, this shifted to eco-development. Since 2002, Project Tiger and the MoEF entered an ostrich phase, when the problems multiplied. They were in a constant state of denial, leading to the collapse of not just Sariska but also Panna and other places.
Everything is blamed on the Rajasthan State Government. Panna is an ongoing failure and the so-called best managed reserve of Kanha still has a huge number of villages inside it. Yet, responsibility is not fixed even on the State Government. The fact that Project Tiger fiddled while everything happened and must therefore share the blame is forgotten. If officials in Rajasthan have to be suspended, why not their counterparts at the Centre?
How do you view the role of the MoEF in conservation in recent years?
MoEF has done horrendous things during these past four years to weaken the protection to tiger habitats earlier offered by the Forest Conservation Act, by diluting project clearance procedures. Project Tiger, with all its tall talk about landscape approach and so on buries its head in the sand and does nothing. The MoEF and the Director of Project Tiger should have been kept at arm's length by the Task Force, which should have functioned with its own independent secretariat.
Who has to implement the vast agenda that is laid out by the Task Force?
This responsibility surprisingly is assigned to the same MoEF Project Tiger and Wildlife Institute of India. Both these are failing institutions with huge weaknesses. They cannot deliver what is expected. I wish the report had really emphasised more state-level action and greater NGO involvement.
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