NATIONAL

Manmohan sets up task force on status of tigers

NEW DELHI, MARCH 17. Responding to the reports of disappearances of tigers from the reserve forests of the country, the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, today ordered the setting up of a task force to look into the matter.

The decision was taken at the meeting of the National Board for Wildlife, chaired by Dr. Singh, here. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is already probing the causes behind the decline in tiger numbers .

The proposed task force has also been mandated to look into the management of tiger reserves and give details of the methodology to be adopted for a foolproof census method, as the current methods are not always accurate. An advisory body in nature, the task force will comprise forest officials, representatives of civil society and wildlife experts.

Briefing reporters after the three-hour long meeting, the Union Environment and Forests Secretary, Prodipto Ghosh, said while the decline in the number of tigers in Sariska had started in 1998, it dropped sharply last year. Mr. Ghosh admitted that there was a discrepancy in the sightings and the census, though he ruled out deliberate fudging of numbers.

Cause for concern

Mr. Ghosh said though no data was available from Indravati National Park as it was inaccessible due to Naxalite activities , the situation in Bandhavgarh, Panna, Kanha and Pench was not all that bad. However, he warned that Ranthambore could become a cause for concern if the flow of tourists was not checked.

Mr. Ghosh said the Ministry had already set up five groups to monitor the management of all 28 tiger reserves of the country. While the results of 14 reserves had come, those remaining would come by the end of April. The results would be evaluated according to international standards and the report placed before Parliament.

Dr. Singh accepted the Board's suggestion to establish a National Wildlife Crime Prevention and Control Bureau that will gather information and prevent poaching and illegal trade.

It was decided that the Ministries of Animal Husbandry and Health and the State Governments would be persuaded to phase out the use of Diclofenac in the next six months to prevent Gyps vultures from being extinct . Diclofenac has been identified as the major cause for the death of the vultures that feed on animal carcass containing the drug.

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