Staff Correspondent

`Bandipur and Nagarahole parks are always short of funds and this hampers forest protection work'

MYSORE: The tiger poaching reported in Nagarahole on Friday is not just a symptom of the malaise that has afflicted the Forest Department staff shortage and primitive anti-poaching camps. It underlines the Government's "failure" in learning from the disasters in Sariska and Panna, where the number of tigers has been decimated by poachers.

The threat is now looming large over Ranthambore National Park, one of the country's best-protected areas.

Tiger's death

A tiger was shot dead on the fringes of Nagarahole National Park in the Poonampet-Virajpet Division in Kodagu.

The news came to light on Friday. The animal had a bullet wound on its neck. And its four paws were dismembered. This points to the fact that it was not killed by coffee plantation workers for self-defence, but that it was the handiwork of professional poachers.

Although poaching of tigers is rare in Bandipur-Nagarahole-Mudmulai-Wayanad belt that constitute the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, elephants and leopards fall easy prey to poachers. There is need to fill up vacancies and strengthen anti-poaching camps.

Sariska disaster

Following the Sariska disaster last year, the Forest Department and the Government here said: "all steps will be taken to prevent a Sariska in Bandipur."

Forest Department sources here said that Bandipur and Nagarahole are always short of funds and this hampers forest protection work.

Routine administrative work and safari ride for tourists are being carried out with the help of credit offered by petrol outlets. Bandipur barely receives funds on time, and similar is the case with other national parks.

A senior official of the Office of the Field Director, Project Tiger, told The Hindu that the crux of the problem plaguing Bandipur and Nagarahole is the vacancies in the forest guard cadre.

As much as 50 per cent of the posts are vacant in Bandipur and Nagarahole, the average age of the forest guards is above 55 and their workload is heavy.

Non-governmental organisations that are aware of the functioning of the Forest Department point out that the morale of forest guards is low since they are not paid on time. Members of the anti-poaching camp are poorly equipped, they said.

Age factor

Wildlife activists pointed out that forest protection is a difficult task, and that is best suited for young people. But majority of the guards in service are above 50.

They are prone to ailments and are afflicted with problems such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and so on and can barely take on the rigors of the task, they said.

Despite the Sariska disaster, the problems plaguing the Forest Department or the incidence of elephant poaching in the region, officials refuse to acknowledge that tigers in Bandipur and Nagarahole are vulnerable.

Both Bandipur and Nagarahole were in the news a few years ago when poachers from Katni in Madhya Pradesh were reportedly found in the Project Tiger area. Reports of the gang operating in Bandipur were first denied, but the presence of jaw traps and arrest of a few gang members vindicated the reports.

Bandipur and Nagarahole are home to some of the finest collections of exotic species in India, and are home to tigers, elephants, leopards, dholes, chital deer, Indian bison and the gaur, apart from over 300 species of birds.

The call of the wild lures a large number of tourists to these national parks. But if the problems are not addressed, and the Government turns a blind eye, then the roar of the tigers and the trumpeting of the elephants could as well be a call in the wilderness.

Good demand

Tiger skin and bones are in good demand in the Far East, including mainland China, for their medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties.

The intricate networks of the international mafia, assisted by locals, continue to target the tigers which are on the brink of extinction.