Tigers missing in India – 03/27/2005

  • October 4, 2013 at 6:32 pm #654

    Amelia Gentleman in Rajasthan, India
    Sunday March 27, 2005
    The Observer

    Staff at the Sariska Tiger Reserve initially preferred not to
    publicise the fact that its tiger population had gone missing. Now
    the peculiar disappearance of the tigers is an international scandal.
    This weekend, India’s government sent eight detectives from Delhi to
    investigate who is to blame for what it being described as the worst
    wildlife crisis in post-independence India.

    The Prime Minister has launched a public commission to establish what
    went wrong and to ensure the catastrophe is not repeated in any other
    reserve. Animal protection organisations have expressed their horror.

    For centuries, maharajahs and the elite of the British Raj travelled
    to Sariska to hunt the tigers. When hunting became unfashionable and
    then illegal, the reserve began to attract eco-tourists.

    But in recent years the population of this highly endangered species
    has dwindled here; in 2003 there were an estimated 25-28, and just 16-
    18 in 2004; officials now think there are none. None of the staff has
    seen any trace of a tiger for five months – no paw marks or trademark
    scratches on trees, no prey carcasses.

    The problem echoes a national trend; most experts believe India’s
    estimate of 3,000 native tigers is a huge exaggeration. ‘It’s
    probably the biggest conservation scandal in modern times,’ said
    Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society
    of India.

    Many possible causes have been cited, with local officials, regional
    ministers and wildlife experts naming their own scapegoats.

    For some, it is purely a question of incompetent management; for
    others, it is the local administration, which failed to move the 28
    noisy villages inside the 880 square-km reserve or divert a busy road
    used daily by thousands of trucks, cars and buses running through its
    centre; others blame the central govern ment for inadequate funding.
    Park officials suggest optimistically that perhaps the tigers have
    temporarily migrated elsewhere or the rain has washed away their

    Some newspapers have evoked Sansar Chand – a legendary godfather
    figure in India’s taxidermy industry – and claimed that he
    orchestrated a mass-scale poisoning of the tigers with the help of
    corrupt game wardens.

    Braj Mohan Sharma, the park’s deputy field director, denied the
    corruption charges and said the problem was largely down to the
    small, ageing team of unarmed forest wardens.

    ‘There’s been no recruitment of frontline staff since 1986 – there’s
    haven’t been the funds. The average age of the wardens is over 50;
    they have lived an unhealthy life and are not strong enough to catch
    the poachers,’ he said at his desk in the park’s head office, a
    chaotic, paper-strewn room showing signs of profound administrative
    neglect. ‘There are no armed guards – they have about five guns
    between them.’

    The flourishing hotel industry on park’s eastern fringes, which
    attracts booming tourism numbers, is also a factor, as is the
    thriving but primitive marble mining industry, using heavy
    explosives. Most implausibly perhaps, the presence of a temple inside
    the park, which welcomes thousands of worshippers every week, is
    accused of having fatally disturbed the animals.

    Amid all this confusion, park officials stress that they await the
    results of the police investigation, adding that, until the annual
    May animal census, no one can say for certain whether the alarm is
    well founded.

    Sariska’s human population, which has always depended on the money
    the tiger lures to the region, is starting to grapple with the
    uncomfortable question of how it will survive. Everyone, from the
    craftsmen who carve tiger statues to tour guides, wildlife experts,
    taxi drivers and the suitcase carriers at the local hotels, faces
    losing work.

    ‘Tigers are not just the magnificent predators which sit atop the
    forest food chain,’ said an editorial in the Hindustan Times. ‘They
    are also very much part of our global brand, attracting millions of
    tourists to the country.’

    Most visitors do not realise their quest for a glimpse of the animal
    is doomed. ‘No tigers? We had no idea,’ said a group of French
    tourists as they climbed into open- backed vehicles for an afternoon

    In nearby Alwa, Jitendra Singh, a representative in the Rajasthan
    state parliament, was pessimistic: ‘The resort is a lifeline to
    thousands. They live a hand-to-mouth existence and don’t have
    anything else. This is going to affect a whole line of people, from
    the hotel owners to the chai-wallahs at the cafes.’

    Singh’s royal forefathers built the lodge on the edge of the park,
    now the Sariska Palace hotel, and his home is full of dusty, stuffed
    tigers killed by long-dead relatives. He believes there has been
    severe incompetence on the part of the park
    administration: ‘Officials seem to have been sleeping at their

    But a new regime may be too late. The Tiger Den hotel is full –
    mostly with tourists – but acting manager Ramawater Gujar said the
    business will not survive without the big cats. ‘There is only one
    thing here – the tiger,’ he said.

The forum ‘Strange Animal Deaths’ is closed to new topics and replies.