Sunday, February 15, 2009

In search of the Tiger….
Is it a tiger, Sir was the question asked to me by a group of eager youth who had taken a grainy image of a pugmark print on their cell phone off the road near their village of Chorla. I strained my eyes to reconfirm what I already knew, and amidst a prolonged silence and a skipped heartbeat, admitted that this was indeed a tiger pugmark print. This was just a fortnight ago, after sightings of yet another female tiger with a cub were reported to Rajendra (Bhai) Kerkar and the talk of the Ghats was the frequent detection of pugmarks by cattle herders, dhangars and interested youth.
And then the buffalo kill happened- on the 4th Feb, a female buffalo belonging to Mr. Gharo Fale was brought down by a tiger in the area near the Dhangar vadda in the wee hours of the morning and dragged in the undergrowth. After having ascertained the act myself, I informed the Dy. Conservator, Wildlife who promptly dispatched a team of Wildlife officials to document the facts and study the same.
A small part of the carcass was eaten and Wildlife officials confirmed that the kill was done by a tiger as evidence by way bite marks at the neck, typical of a tiger kill were observed. While pugmarks were also found in the vicinity of the kill, it was seemingly not possible to take plaster casts due to the uneven terrain. Instead Glass tracings were taken and photographic documentation was carried out in a scientific manner by the Range Forest Officer, Wildlife Campal.
The Chorla Ghats area in particular and the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary in general as always been the “Land of the Tiger” and many tales abound of the presence of this large cat in these biodiversity rich forests. With a peak Vagheri, named after the tiger and Vaghro Dev, a deity worshipped in praise of the Lord of Forest, there is no denial that this majestic cat has existed in these wild tracts for decades and the local communities are aware of its presence.
In the last few months however, these “tales” have had substantial evidences to prove that they are just not village tales. Secondary evidences like scats, pugmarks and kills have been observed right from Kankumbi, Chorla and Chiguli in Karnataka to Virdi in Maharashtra and Zambhlikade, Surla and Anjunem dam, Vagheri areas on the Goa Maharashtra border.
However our official Government machinery is still to determine whether these are transit tigers habitually crossing over from the Dandeli and adjoining forest areas or resident individuals which hold large territories that make sightings infrequent, thus considering them to be transits individuals or floaters as they are called.
While monitoring the movement of these individuals active in the Chorla Ghats area will help conclude this topic, the fact that the Mhadei region which encompasses the states of Goa Karnataka and Maharashtra is an important large cat corridor cannot be denied now.
The various medium and small dam projects planned in this region that envisage to submerge large tracts of prime tiger habitat need to be reconsidered and studied keeping this aspect in mind and the Mhadei Bachao Abhiyaan is seeking advice to approach the newly formed Tiger Conservation Authority on this front. The fact that the adjoining area of Anshi national park being included as a Tiger Reserve under Project Tiger supports this reality and the collective efforts of Wildlife officials of all three states is vital if this tiger habitat is to be conserved. On a scientific front, the need to place camera traps to freeze images of these large cats is the best option to conduct long term studies and scat collection to determine age, sex and DNA sampling is the need of the hour. An exercise of joint monitoring with the help of locals, wildlife volunteers and wildlife officials is also vital as this will not only raise awareness amongst the communities in the region but also provide fundamental information of the movements and whereabouts of these large cats.
Ground reality is different- the Mhadei Wildlife sanctuary still yearns to gets its due recognition from the State as well as the Central Government as a wildlife sanctuary as well as an important large mammal corridor and large cat habitat. The Karnataka Government is on its way to submerge huge tracts of forest land and divert waters of the Mahdei under it Mhadei Dam and diversion scheme and declaration of the proposed Bhimgad Wildlife sanctuary is still a far fetched dream. In Maharashtra, both private and reserved forest lands are being emptied due to monoculture plantation, poaching and encroachment. The future is bleak for “this land of the tiger” and there is ample possibility that the roar of this majestic cat might be silenced even before it is heard!
With a silent prayer, and a hope that the these large cats that have returned to their home in Goa’s Western Ghats will roam these wilds freely, I move ahead, again capturing another image of a pugmark near a water puddle as the sun sets and night takes over my home in the wilds…until next time. Keep the faith.

No comments: