Environment

Poaching, not coronavirus, is the bigger threat, says tiger expert

Hear me roar: Tiger population can be boosted by ensuring plentiful supply of prey and habitat protection.   | Photo Credit: M.A. Sriram

Wildlife scientist Ullas Karanth, an expert on tiger conservation, has cautioned that a spurt in poaching during the lockdown period poses a greater threat to wildlife than the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The warning came after the advisory issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for immediate preventive measures to stop the spread of the virus from humans to animals and vice-versa in national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves. The advisory came after a tiger at the Bronx zoo in the U.S. tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Dr. Karanth worked for three decades with the organisation that runs the zoo, the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Writing on the Centre for Wildlife Studies portal, he said that the issue was being blown out of proportion because of the media focus, although this could be attributed to genuine concern. This specific virus was known to affect domestic cats and it came as no surprise that tigers could get it too. Dr. Karanth pointed out that wild tiger populations had high birth rates and high annual mortality rates and the coronavirus-related threats were highly unlikely to cause population declines.

On the contrary, he said, the real threat to tigers was posed by a surge in local poaching of prey species during the lockdown. He cited incidents in Kodagu and Shivamogga, reported in recent days [involving sale of deer meat.] The police were busy otherwise, and forest officials faced movement constraints, emboldening a new wave of poachers, he said.

 

Responding to the issue, Karnataka Forest Department officials said they had taken precautionary measures while handling captive animals, without relaxing anti-poaching activities.

N.S. Murali, Inspector-General of Forests, NTCA (South Zone) said the advisory referred to wild animals straying into human habitation and needed tranquilisation and translocation. Personnel handling tiger operations should ensure that they were coronavirus negative. The same held good for post mortem.

On the reported spurt in poaching due to lockdown, Conservator of Forests T. Balachandra who is also the Director of Bandipur Tiger Reserve said there was no known case of poaching in protected areas where fire guards supplemented the field staff. The one reported from Bandipur took place in an adjoining reserve forest. This being fire season, there were 400 fire watchers in Bandipur besides field staff and another 400 watchers in Nagarahole, two famous tiger reserves, and the added staff would deter poachers.

 

But a senior official said Kodagu, Shivamogga, Chikkamagalur and villages near MM Hills and Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuaries had a history of poaching. The ban on domestic meat sale early in the lockdown may have added to poaching. But the meat sale ban had been lifted and protection stepped up.

No reports: NTCA

“We have not got any reports on increase in poaching,” said Anup Kumar Nayak, Director-General, NTCA.

“However forest staff have additional responsibilities now to provide masks to field staff and assist State administration in COVID-19 relief work.”

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 5:00:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/poaching-not-coronavirus-is-the-bigger-threat-says-tiger-expert/article31292709.ece

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