Palamau frowns at tiger shield

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By SUMAN K. SHRIVASTAVA in Ranchi
  • Published 2.03.08
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Ranchi, March 1: Animal lovers may have welcomed P Chidambaram’s announcement of a grant of Rs 50 crore to raise an armed special tiger protection force, but those at the Palamau Tiger Reserve here are not impressed with the finance minister’s gesture.

Local forest officials believe that while a tiger force was an effective antidote to the dwindling numbers of big cats in other reserves, Palamau was different as it has always been under the grip of extremists.

So, an armed force would only escalate tension and invite further trouble, feared officials at the reserve that was one of the first to be brought under Project Tiger in 1973.

The Palamau reserve, according to the latest census, has 17 tigers. The Dehradun-based World Wildlife Institute is, however, yet to approve of the claim.

Forest officials said the dwindling number of tigers at Palamau should not be attributed to poaching, a problem being faced by the remaining eight other tiger reserves.

“The decreasing number of tigers in Palamau was more due to the shrinking base of prey animals who do not have proper food for survival,” said a senior forest officer. The number of domestic animals has increased alarmingly, sharing the available fodder in the sanctuary.

Illegal felling of trees wasn’t a factor for the falling numbers either. For, such activity was restricted to teak only. “Teak isn’t native to Jharkhand. So, its felling does not make much of a difference,” the officials said.

“Moreover, unarmed forest officers, who usually go on patrolling in the jungle during daytime, may attract the attention of Naxalites once they are armed,” they added.

Palamau required a different approach. “We must increase the area of grassland to supply fodder to the carnivores,” said a senior IFS officer.

Union finance minister P. Chidambaram, while introducing budget 2008, said the number — 1,411 — of the big cat in the country should ring alarm bells. “The tiger is under grave threat. There is the need to redouble the effort to protect the tiger,” he said, proposing a one time grant of Rs 50 crore to the National Tiger Conservation Authority to raise, arm and deploy a special tiger protection force.

The number of tigers at Palamau has always been a matter of dispute. Since the first census in 1934, its population showed a steady decline till 1972 when it touched 17. After being declared a sanctuary in 1973, the number rose to 55 in 1989. The 1991 census pegged the tiger population at 54 and in 2005, it was 38. Trackers say there are seven tigers now.

R.N. Prasad, senior conservator of the Palamau tiger project, however, agreed that the armed force would serve one purpose. “It will at least stop the felling of trees.”