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Deccan Herald » Fine Art / Culture » Detailed Story
Quo Vadis Panthera Tigris?
The stalling of amendments seeking to strengthen India's Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, in Parliament on May 17, 2006 and the inexorable push by politicians to use the forests of India as coinage-for-votes through the proposed Tribal Bill are hard signs of India's slip slide to ecological disaster.

Nothing illustrates the bleak signs of the times more than a Reuters Report dated May 17, 2006, quoting the Director of India's fallen Project Tiger, Dr Rajesh Gopal, saying that: "We have been successful in conserving tigers." Acutely aware of the tiger bloodbath that a rudderless forest bureaucracy has failed to counter. In the very same breath Gopal went on to add: "...but with their (China's) help we will be able to conserve (sic) in a better manner."

The comment was triggered by the fact that China has actually encouraged the brutal trade in tiger skins sourced from India. This is seen as one glaring reason for Sarika's tigers going locally extinct. And with each passing day more stories of empty tiger forests are emerging and these are being accepted by everyone, except India's Ministry of Environment and Forests, which steadfastly holds a blindfold to its own eyes.

Project Tiger, once hailed as "the world's most successful conservation project" has lost its bearings. The rot began to set in the early nineties when the quality of leadership of Project Tiger plummeted, post the demise of Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi. Instead of continuing with the decades-old successful strategy of anti-poaching and prevention of habitat destruction, they were lured by the World Bank to borrow and spend almost 100 million dollars to "win the support of people for wildlife."

In the early 1990s the Directorate of Project Tiger continued to deny the tiger crisis, leading Sanctuary magazine to put out a series of warnings to the effect that while India was losing one tiger every single day to poachers and habitat destruction, officials were busy fabricating stories to suggest that "all was well with tigers and that wildlife NGOs and individuals were only raising a bogey to get media attention.

Today, the truth has come home to roost. But there is little chance the guilty will ever be punished for misleading the country and even the Parliament. At the height of the tiger crisis in the mid-nineties, for instance, a Director of Project Tiger prepared a reply for his Minister to present in Parliament stating that "only one tiger had been killed in the past year". When asked how he could so blandly mislead the Minister, he explained that since only one tiger death was recorded in his files he gave that figure "rather than rely on press reports."

Meanwhile, government statistics from various tiger states had confirmed haul after haul of tiger and leopard skins, with photos and television reports.

Rare honesty

When P K Sen took charge of Project Tiger as its Director, he changed all this. Not only did he confirm officially the one-tiger-a-day death rate, but went on to add that half of all tiger habitats in India had been destroyed between 1973 (when Project Tiger was launched) and the year 2000.

After Sen left, the cover ups began again. More than anything else, this lack of leadership in Project Tiger, coupled with doublespeak and downright disinformation has kept the real fate of the tiger hidden. An unnamed source in the Ministry of Environment, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Sanctuary that the reason that the National Wildlife Board Meeting, scheduled to be held last month, was postponed, was to find a way to window-dress the drastically low tiger numbers that emerged from the latest census of tigers that has been concluded, but whose details are among the most tightly guarded secrets of this government.

Today after over a decade of departmental cover-ups, Project Tiger authorities have been forced, very, very reluctantly, to admit that the number of tigers left alive in India is much lower than they had blithely claimed these many years. The cause of such tiger deaths is simple; international demand for skin and bones of tigers, coupled with the lethargy of wildlife officialdom in India and the apathy of a political system to the fate of Panthera tigris.

To know more about the tiger crisis and to learn about the way in which one million children are rallying to save the tiger log on to: www.kidsfortigers.org and www.sanctuaryasia.com
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