With Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh announcing 2010 as the year of the tiger, some ghosts about the depletion and near-extinction of the big cats need to be dug out from the “tiger State’s” not so distant past.
While poaching, infighting and retaliation by affected people have been repeatedly cited as causes of depleting tiger population, state-sponsored systematic extermination of the big cats have never figured as a reason.
According to notifications issued by the Madhya Pradesh forest department, hundreds of tigers were “allowed” to be killed till as recent as 1972.
The language of the notifications clearly states that permissions were given out under the colonial practice of game-hunting for the “destruction of flesh-eating carnivores”.
In the year 1970-71 alone, 35 tigers, 46 leopards and numerous other wild animals were killed in just one forest circle of the state, making the forest department richer by revenues earned through the permissions.
“It was a parochial practice which may have caused the fall in tiger population to a considerable extent,” says Chief Wildlife Warden R. S. Negi.
“Today, erstwhile maharajas proudly boast of how many tigers they killed. The fact is that it was wrong, having allowed the depletion of wildlife so freely. But all this stopped 30 years ago,” he adds.
The department had issued several notifications allowing a certain number of tigers to be killed from each forest circle till 1972, after which the Wildlife (Protection) Act came into force, prohibiting such killings.
While the State-sponsored killings no longer take place, the damage they have done reflects heavily in the form of the current crisis of tiger population.
“How can the state justify the destruction of precious wild life to fulfill the whims of the rich and the elite?” says Anil Garg, a wildlife activist.
Hundreds of tigers, leopards, cheetahs and bison were killed during a period of 1950-172. Further, there was no limit for hunting animals like bear, as the notifications had the term “unlimited” written against these animals.