Activists roar for tiger reserve as Goa drags feet

July 11th, 2011 - 2:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Panaji, July 11 (IANS) Even as the Goa government is dragging its feet over drafting a proposal to set up the Mhadei tiger reserve in a wildlife sanctuary ringed by iron ore mining leases, a green activist in Goa has already launched a petition campaign to speed up the process.

The online petition seeking to expedite the process of setting up the tiger reserve at Mhadei wildlife sanctuary, located 70 km from here, was launched by activist Tallulah D’Silva Monday.

“We the undersigned, residents of Goa, nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts, admirers especially of the tiger, are writing to you as we are aware that Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has requested the Goa government to send the proposal for a tiger reserve at Mhadei region,” reads the petition, which will be submitted to Chief Minister Digambar Kamat.

“We write this to highlight the need to protect and conserve an intrinsic part of our Western Ghats, its forests and biodiversity. There is a dire need to protect and conserve our tiger habitats,” it says.

The online petition comes against the backdrop of a sluggish response from the forest department as well as the state forest minister, after Jairam Ramesh last month wrote to Kamat asking the state government to submit a proposal to upgrade the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary to a tiger reserve.

While Goa’s chief wildlife warden Shashi Kumar has said that there “are a lot of local factors yet to be taken into account, before setting up of a tiger reserve”, according to state Forest Minister Filipe Neri Rodrigues, the Mhadei tiger reserve would take some time coming.

“We have to first take the local legislators into confidence, then we have to talk to the local people as to whether they want it or not. How can a decision be taken soon?” Rodrigues told IANS.

According to Tallulah, who started a similar campaign last year, the Mhadei tiger reserve would be a critical habitat which would serve multiple purposes.

“That they are dragging their feet over the issue is obvious because of mining interests. Declaration of a tiger reserve will ensure protection to the catchment areas of important rivers like the Mhadei, Malaprabha, Pandhari…and will address the water security issues for Goa, Karnataka and Maharasthra for posterity,” she said.

“There is a strong indication that the floater population (young adults in search of territories) of tigers from neighbouring Anshi Tiger Reserve (Karnataka) are moving into areas of Bhimgad forests (also in Karnataka) and adjoining Mahdei Wildlife sanctuary,” Tallulah said.

“This also indicates that the area has a substantial prey base and additional protection as a tiger reserve will help augment this prey base due to additional forestry and conservation initiatives,” she said.

Wildlife expert Rajendra Kerkar, who has been campaigning for the setting up of a tiger reserve in Goa for the last 20 years, says that mining leases which surround the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary were discouraging the government from taking active steps towards setting up of the reserve.

“It is beyond doubt that these forests are a home for tigers. However, if the state’s handful sanctuaries are notified as tiger reserves, mining - illegal and legal - around these, carried out with the blessings of the politicians and state administration would have to cease,” he said.

Goa’s Rs.6,000 crore mining open cast iron, manganese and bauxite industry is located in the state’s hinterland, nestled in the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats.

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