Decision made to curb human disturbance in tiger habitats, says Forest Department

In a decision that is bound to antagonise conservation scientists, the State Forest Department has clamped down on field research in tiger reserves and will neither renew nor grant fresh permits to enter these forests.

The State's five tiger reserves — Bandipur, Nagarahole, Anshi-Dandeli, Bhadra and B.R. Hills — will no longer be accessible for field research, according to Principal Chief Conservator of Forests B.K. Singh.

The recent fire in Nagarahole has only reaffirmed the need for ‘inviolate zones' in tiger habitats to prevent human ‘disturbance', he added. In fact, over the last two years, the department had denied permission to almost every one of the 30-odd applicants for research in these forests. Research permits have been renewed for only two scientists: tiger expert Ullas Karanth and elephant researcher T.N.C. Vidya of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Mr. Singh said.

Applications rejected

Applications of several researchers, including scientists from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), who had sought permission to study subjects ranging from Kabini hydrology and elephant behaviour to Shola ecology in these forests, were rejected. Citing the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA) 1972, Mr. Singh said the 2006 amendment stipulated the creation of ‘inviolate' zones in tiger reserves to curb human presence. Asked why the two researchers were privileged over the others, he said that while Prof. Karanth was doing tiger-specific research, Dr. Vidya was given a recommendation by the Union Government.

Scientists outraged

Scientists and conservation biologists, who had noticed the trend, were outraged by a decision they say was based on whimsy rather than scientific justification.

R. Sukumar, professor and chairman at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc., said his students were routinely denied entry into Nagarahole and Bandipur. “This decision means that the Forest Department will now manage forests without scientific information.”

Wildlife cannot be looked at in isolation, he added. “What about fire ecology, vegetation ecology or invasive plants?”

The WLPA did not mandate such a ban, said Nitin Rai, fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. “On the contrary, it supports research that improves habitat quality,” he said, describing the ban on research in tiger reserves as retrogressive and arbitrary.

The only State

Indeed, no other State denies permission to researchers in tiger reserves, M.D. Madhusudan, senior scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation, pointed out. “It is unlikely that research is the most serious threat that tigers are facing,” he said.

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