Tigers fall victim as poachers slip through cracks

February 18th, 2009 - 11:34 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) In India, the core areas of tiger reserves are often well protected but the surrounding forests are not, says a senior official of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB). The result, tigers come out of the core area and get killed by poachers.

The situation is worsened because the forest department employees in the surrounding areas “remain occupied in social forestry works, among others, which give them little time to protect the wild animals. Consequently, poachers take advantage of the situation”, the official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

The forest surrounding the core area of a protected reserve is called a buffer zone or a territorial forest. Their job is to place a belt between the wild animals and human activities that are likely to disturb them.

But the problem, says the official, is that in many cases the core area is under the jurisdiction of a park director, while the buffer zone is under the control of the chief wildlife warden (CWW), who reports to the state’s principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF).

In the core areas, all human activities except conservation are banned. In the buffer zones, though, local residents can collect fodder, fuelwood or other forest products as long as it’s not timber.

“There are running battles going on between forest department guards and local residents on whether they have taken too much. The staff ends up spending so much time in some court or the other that he has no time to look after animals,” said Kaziranga Park Director S.N. Buragohain.

“And of course the tigers or other animals don’t know where the core area ends and the buffer zone begins,” the WCCB official added. “So they do wander out. And poachers set up their bases in buffer zones because they can camouflage themselves by mixing with the local community.”

The problem of multiplicity of authorities has been tackled in reserves like Corbett, Kanha, Nagarahole or Kaziranga and others that have been declared national parks, by placing the park director in charge of the entire protected area, the core as well as the buffer. But most of the reserves are not national parks.

In these reserves, “when a tiger is poached in a buffer area, the core staff does not always show interest, since the area does not fall directly under them. The staff also lacks information on each other’s areas. Without an effective mechanism for intelligence sharing, the poachers would always have an upper hand,” the official said.

Currently, there are 37 tiger reserves in the country. The government added eight to the list last year.

As per the 2006 amendment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, it has become mandatory for all tiger reserves to declare a core and a buffer zone, said Rajesh Gopal, head of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

However, a number of state governments are yet to demarcate the buffer zones. “We have been trying to include the buffer zones around these tiger reserves so that greater protection can be provided to tigers,” said Gopal.

According to a government estimate there are just around 1,400 tigers left in the country today. A few decades ago, some 15,000 tigers had roamed the subcontinent, but shrinking habitats, poaching and human-tiger conflicts have taken their toll.

Experts believe that since tigers are adaptable to harsh natural conditions, they can bounce back if protection is provided.

(Sanjeeb Baruah can be contacted at sanjeeb.b@ians.in)

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