Thursday, February 12, 2015

Increase in tiger numbers; increase in man-animal conflict

As we head into the new year, we have to brace ourselves for more man-animal conflicts in the periphery of all tiger reserves in Karnataka. We are bound to have more tiger trouble.
The recent man-eating incident near the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary is just the beginning of what is to come. We could attribute this grim situation to an increase in tiger population in our reserves, fragmented corridors (which facilitate the movement of transient animals into adjoining habitats), prey depletion through poaching and lack of political will to address critical wildlife management issues.
It is worrisome that in a span of 18 months the Karnataka forest department has captured ten tigers from Nagarhole and Bandipur.  At the last enumeration in our tiger reserves, there were 100 to 110 tigers in Bandipur, 60 to 80 in Nagarhole, 50 to 55 in BRT, 30 to 35 in Bhadra, 30-35 in Dandeli and Anshi.
There is a viable population in MM Hills. Also tigers have been frequently spotted in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. There are a few in our reserve forests as well.  It might interest you that a transient female had briefly forayed into the Bannerghatta national park, barely 22 km from Bengaluru, in 2012.
All put together there are over 400 tigers in Karnataka, making it the number one tiger state in the country. But with the increase in numbers we have had an increase in man-animal conflicts as well, reflected in frequent capture of tigers in Bandipur and Nagarhole. There have been stray man-eating incidents in BRT and Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary in recent times.
The situation can get worse. A demoralized forest force, pre-historic ammunition, foisting of false cases against staff who confront poachers, lack of cooperation and support from local populace and the political establishment makes a heady cocktail of wildlife trouble.
In hindsight, decisions taken by the forest department has also been baffling. Instead of winning the confidence of people who live in the vicinity of the forests, we are infuriating them to revolt against our dwindling wildlife population. The decision to relocate the tiger that was captured from Chikmagaluru was imprudent.
The very fact that the tiger had killed a woman in a coffee estate should have been a deterrent against its release. It should have wisely been kept in captivity at a zoo. But the urge to save it and allow it to propagate in its natural habitat seemed more appealing at the time of decision-making. It was taken in the interest of the tiger.
Now that the same tiger has killed and devoured a pregnant woman should caution the authorities from releasing captured animals into the wild again. As history reflects, either they are killed by resident tigers or they prey on vulnerable men and women.
So what is the solution then? Considering that more injured, hungry and weary tigers are expected to be captured in the future and that there is no space for them in zoos, the department has to identify an area where these wild-caught tigers can be rehabilitated. But then…

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Special Tiger Protection Force(STPF) staff demoralised

A couple of weeks ago we were cock-a-hoop about tiger numbers increasing in the country. Now, we are a worried lot as we are losing tigers regularly to poisoning and poaching. Natural deaths do occur due to territorial fights. But death through poisoning is threatening the very existence of our flagship species .It has become a regular occurrence over the last five years.

Unlike in the past, people don’t need guns to kill the world’s most majestic animal. They just need DDT, which is available across the counter in most village hamlets adjoining our tiger habitats. The moment a tiger or leopard kills their cattle or goats, people spray DDT on the half-eaten carcass. The tiger succumbs when it eats the poison-laden meat.

As records manifest, we lost a robust four-year-old tigress at the kundhakere range in Bandipur to poisoning recently.

The news of losing two eight-month old cubs in Nagarhole tiger reserve to starvation is disturbing. It was fortunate that another emancipated cub was rescued and taken to the Mysore zoo. Had the mother of the cubs been alive, this would not have happened. Intriguingly, there is no trace of the mother. Its carcass has not been found as yet. Was it poisoned? Was it poached? The Karnataka Forest Department has no clue.

It was with the intent to suppress poaching that the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) created the Special Tiger Protection Force. But the state of the STPF in Karnataka is as precarious as that of the tiger. While the tiger is being persecuted by poachers and enraged farmers, the STPF personnel are being harassed by their bosses.

You may ask why so? If you read what follows you will understand their predicament.

It is shocking that the STPF staff were made to sign a bond which implies that that they are not entitled for transfer until they turn 40. The average age of the STPF range forest officers, deputy range forest officers, forest guards and watchers is 23. That means they can’t seek a transfer for 15 to 17 years.

These are woes that the NTCA and KFD need to address before a whole lot of some of them quit their jobs in frustration. As it is, as a demoralized lot they have not been able to perform their duty to the best of their ability.

1.     They are unhappy that they have been made to sign a draconian bond, which compels them to work in the STPF until they are 40 years old, while their batch mates who are part of the regular wildlife force sign a bond only for five years.

          2.  They are depressed that their batch mates ,culled from the 218 personnel that were absorbed by the KFD in 2010, get transfers when they ask for one.

3. They are hurt that they have to work under the orders of their batch mates who comprise the regular wildlife force. They feel ridiculed that a batch mate, who trained alongside them, commands them, though both are of the same rank.

4.  More significantly they are perturbed that prospective brides are not willing to marry them as they have signed the draconian bond which binds them to the “no transfer clause until they are 40”.

5.  Lack of proper ammunition when they are  up against poachers and better work environment are other issues that rankle the STPF.
.

When the STPF plight is thus, how can we expect the force to save our wildlife and forests?


Over to the KFD.




Prakash Javadekar's largesse; NGOs squabble

Tiger numbers may have increased over 25 per cent, from 1740 to 2286, in the Indian forest landscape. But let us not get excited. There are too many loopholes that dog our conservation policies, detrimental to the future of our flagship species
 The problem is at three levels. It begins with our ‘learned’ environment minister Prakash Javadekar, percolates to the unholy goings-on in forest department and the fight between fund-hungry, headlines seeking NGOs.
Without understanding the dynamics of forest and wildlife conservation, an excited Mr Javadekar went to the extent of saying “India is even willing to donate tiger cubs to the international community and play a key role in global tiger conservation efforts". Wonder if he knows that India was home to one lakh tigers when the British ruled us.
He should be given the ‘Padmashree’ for this blah-blah. He would do well to increase the area of tiger habitats, instead of giving over-the-counter clearances for mining, hydro and infrastructure projects in forests. Economic empowerment through development is welcome, but not at the cost of our forest landscape, which is our only lung-space.
 Mr Javadekar should understand that every citizen is a stake holder. He can't destroy God's Gift to mankind: Forests and wildlife. If he means what he says (gifting tiger cubs), let him increase the size of our natural forests, instead of shrinking and fragmenting it to please mining, oil, hydro and infrastructure tycoons.
Let’s talk about our NGOs. Some are a bane to our wildlife. Take the instance of the on-going rift between noted wildlife biologists Ullas Karanth and Sanjay Gubbi. Karanth had no issues with Gubbi as long as he worked in his Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) Empire. Both were on the same page when it came to wildlife conservation issues.
But they have turned bitter rivals. Why: Gubbi moved to the more reputed Nature Conservation Society (NCF). Conservation has suffered in their battle for wildlife turf. Karanth many believe has turned nasty. Two incidents bring his angst against Gubbi to light.
First: When a radio-collared leopard was found dead in the vicinity of Mysore, a picture of the feline hanging from a tree was mysteriously released to a select group of journalists. It was alleged that the leopard had died due to asphyxiation caused by the radio collar.
When post mortem reports revealed that the leopard had died of poisoning (zinc phosphide), the forest department issued a statement that someone with malicious intentions was creating trouble. Intriguingly, 30 RTIs had been filed to pin down Gubbi, who had been given the go-ahead for radio-collaring leopards that come into conflict with humans.
Second: When a radio-collared tiger, which had killed a woman in Chikamagalur coffee estate, was released in Bhimgad wildlife sanctuary near Khanapur (Belgaum), Karanth again accused Gubbi. He went on to suggest that Gubbi was ill-experienced in radio-collaring. He even went to the extent of asking for a government enquiry. Yes, Gubbi failed in his endeavour.  The tiger killed another woman before it was shot dead.
Karanth should also take responsibility for killing some of our tigers and leopards when he was learning the nuances of radio-telemetry. His utterances, in his quest to tarnish Gubbi’s image, has impacted wildlife conservation. Vinay Luthra, chief wildlife warden, says it was the tiger (wildlife) that suffered in the battle between two wildlife biologists.
Let’s hope Karanth and Gubbi bury their differences for wildlife sake. Unless all of us work in tandem, no conservation program will be successful, more so when Javadekar is hell bent on clearing mining and infrastructure projects. Unlike conservationists, Javadekar’s interest is dollars, not tigers.



Javadekar's largesse; NGOs squabble

Tiger numbers may have increased over 25 per cent, from 1740 to 2286, in the Indian forest landscape. But let us not get excited. There are too many loopholes that dog our conservation policies, detrimental to the future of our flagship species
 The problem is at three levels. It begins with our ‘learned’ environment minister Prakash Javadekar, percolates to the unholy goings-on in forest department and the fight between fund-hungry, headlines seeking NGOs.
Without understanding the dynamics of forest and wildlife conservation, an excited Mr Javadekar went to the extent of saying “India is even willing to donate tiger cubs to the international community and play a key role in global tiger conservation efforts". Wonder if he knows that India was home to one lakh tigers when the British ruled us.
He should be given the ‘Padmashree’ for this blah-blah. He would do well to increase the area of tiger habitats, instead of giving over-the-counter clearances for mining, hydro and infrastructure projects in forests. Economic empowerment through development is welcome, but not at the cost of our forest landscape, which is our only lung-space.
 Mr Javadekar should understand that every citizen is a stake holder. He can't destroy God's Gift to mankind: Forests and wildlife. If he means what he says (gifting tiger cubs), let him increase the size of our natural forests, instead of shrinking and fragmenting it to please mining, oil, hydro and infrastructure tycoons.
Let’s talk about our NGOs. Some are a bane to our wildlife. Take the instance of the on-going rift between noted wildlife biologists Ullas Karanth and Sanjay Gubbi. Karanth had no issues with Gubbi as long as he worked in his Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) Empire. Both were on the same page when it came to wildlife conservation issues.
But they have turned bitter rivals. Why: Gubbi moved to the more reputed Nature Conservation Society (NCF). Conservation has suffered in their battle for wildlife turf. Karanth many believe has turned nasty. Two incidents bring his angst against Gubbi to light.
First: When a radio-collared leopard was found dead in the vicinity of Mysore, a picture of the feline hanging from a tree was mysteriously released to a select group of journalists. It was alleged that the leopard had died due to asphyxiation caused by the radio collar.
When post mortem reports revealed that the leopard had died of poisoning (zinc phosphide), the forest department issued a statement that someone with malicious intentions was creating trouble. Intriguingly, 30 RTIs had been filed to pin down Gubbi, who had been given the go-ahead for radio-collaring leopards that come into conflict with humans.
Second: When a radio-collared tiger, which had killed a woman in Chikamagalur coffee estate, was released in Bhimgad wildlife sanctuary near Khanapur (Belgaum), Karanth again accused Gubbi. He went on to suggest that Gubbi was ill-experienced in radio-collaring. He even went to the extent of asking for a government enquiry. Yes, Gubbi failed in his endeavour.  The tiger killed another woman before it was shot dead.
Karanth should also take responsibility for killing some of our tigers and leopards when he was learning the nuances of radio-telemetry. His utterances, in his quest to tarnish Gubbi’s image, has impacted wildlife conservation. Vinay Luthra, chief wildlife warden, says it was the tiger (wildlife) that suffered in the battle between two wildlife biologists.
Let’s hope Karanth and Gubbi bury their differences for wildlife sake. Unless all of us work in tandem, no conservation program will be successful, more so when Javadekar is hell bent on clearing mining and infrastructure projects. Unlike conservationists, Javadekar’s interest is dollars, not tigers.
ends


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tiger Expert Ullas Karanth in Pajero trouble

If you ever wondered why the Indian government has been skeptical about non-governmental organizations, you don’t have to beyond this story to clear your doubt. The facts are in black and white.
This is not an effort to paint all NGOs black. Some have done and continue to do remarkable work in their area of proficiency, be it health, education, conservation. But there is one particular NGO that has constantly been in the news for the good and wrong reasons.
You must have certainly read or heard about Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), the brainchild of Dr Ullas Karanth, a wildlife biologist. Ullas Karanth is a tiger specialist who has done laudable work. He was the first to radio collar tigers in India, specifically Karnataka.
It is a different story that the Karnataka government banned him from radio collaring tigers, after eight felines died in the process of understanding the nuance of radio-telemetry. Despite his uncanny ability to lobby with the political establishment, Ullas Karanth has had regular run-ins with the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD). They stare daggers at each other!
KFD had raised a clamor when it stumbled upon documents relating to CWS’ funding. The expose irrevocably damaged Ullas Karanth’s reputation. There has always been a niggling doubt about his genuine intent, a reason why many conservationists don’t see eye to eye with him.
The files that have appended with this story augment this suspicion. As you read through, you will understand that CWS was given complete customs exemption when Wildlife Conservation Society (New York) gifted a Mitsubishi Pajero to the Bangalore-based NGO.
 The adhoc exemption, made under special provision by the ministry of finance, was valid until 31st  January 1999. The conditions laid out clearly specify that the vehicle “shall be used only for the purpose for which it was imported.”
It also implies that “the vehicle cannot be sold, disposed of, gifted, loaned or parted away except as stated above without prior permission of the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, New Delhi.
An undertaking to this effect was given by the importer before the commissioner of customs concerned at the time of clearance of goods. “In the event of any default detected subsequent to the import, full duty will be leviable and penal action taken as per law.”
Contrary to the clauses drafted by the Ministry of Finance, Revenue Department (30th July 1998), Karanth has succeeded in transferring the vehicle to his personal name from Centre for Wildlife Studies.
Interestingly, Ullas Karanth, as managing trustee of CWS, has himself transferred the vehicle into his name. Intriguingly, the address provided by the CWS managing trustee and the beneficiary (Ullas Karanth) is the same. Perhaps, the RTO did the transfers without going through the documents of the imported vehicle.
Did the government give Ullas Karanth permission to transfer the customs duty-wavered imported vehicle in his name?

If Karanth has been given special exemption by the government to import and then transfer the vehicle in his name, then it has to give the same benefit to trustees of all other NGOs. If the government has not ceded clearance for such a transfer, then it has to take action.












Thursday, November 20, 2014

Coffee Estates in the midst of tiger habitat


Time’s up for Birla, TVS group

It is different strokes for different people. The poor and hapless are harassed and hounded out of their dwelling. But the rich and powerful are allowed to build posh bungalows. This is no exaggeration.
video












This story unfurls in the very heart of the Billigiriranga Swamy Temple (BRT) tiger reserve in Karnataka, India. The 542 sq km reserve is home to the critically endangered tiger. Leopards, wild dogs, bears, gaurs (Indian bison), elephants, spotted and barking deer thrive in this pristine habitat. It is also home to as many as 270 species of birds.

The flora is made up of mixed vegetation. The sound of rivulets, fed by shola forests, cascading down the valley is mesmerizing. If not for four coffee estates in the core area, BRT makes out to be a fairytale wildlife habitat. It is alluring at its best.

 Disturbingly, these estates are right in the midst of the elephant corridor, obstructing the movement of pachyderms into the adjacent forests of Tamil Nadu. Lack of palatable, nutritious vegetation has driven elephants into farm lands, leading to frequent man-animal conflict in the periphery of the reserve.

Worse, the estates store and use the water from the rivulets that flow through coffee plantations and release polluted water into the streams which are used by wildlife.

Tiger numbers have been increasing every year. The last count puts the figure at 56. That tigers have successfully bred in this fragmented habitat indicates that the numbers could increase if the undulating habitat is undisturbed.

To create an unflustered environment, the estates, which have trespassed 277 acres of leased forest land, should wind up forthwith. Despite defaulting on lease rent, they are not willing to cede ground. Instead, they are engaged in a legal battle with the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD).

Considering that the matter is in court, the KFD had in a last-ditch effort appealed to the estate owners to surrender the land in the interest of wildlife conservation. Though the letter (dated Sept 4, 2014), requesting them to join hands to conserve the pristine eco-system by keeping the habitat free of human interference, was sent to them during the first week of September 2014, the ‘land lords’ have failed to respond to this clarion call.

They are shy of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), though the land in question belongs to the government.

These estates are owned by some very big and successful industrialists who have contributed significantly to the country’s economy through their successful business enterprise.

Billigiri Rangan Coffee Estates (Bedaguli) and Nilgiri Plantation Ltd (Honnametti) are owned by the Kolkata-based Birla group. The Birla’s have given a Power of Attorney (PA) to B H Lakhani, who has been hauled up by the court for illegally felling trees and constructing a tank in the tiger reserve.

Emerald Haven Estates Limited (Beagle) belongs to the TVS group. Sangameshwara Coffee Estate (Attikan), which is located in revenue land abetting the tiger reserve, is owned by an industrialist from Mysore.

While at one extreme we plead with the powerful to save our eco-system, we are luring, also coercing, forest settlers (soligas) to relocate from the very mooring where their great, great grandfathers lived in harmony with the denizens of the forests.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has classified tiger reserves as critical wildlife habitats. Being inviolate areas there ought to be no human habitation. It is for this reason, over 1200 families have been displaced from the Bhadra and Bandipur tiger reserves.

But the Birla and TVS groups have scant regard for the NTCA guidelines. Going by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) diktat, all tiger states have declared eco-sensitive zones, which encompass the buffer zone.

Settlements have been razed in the fringe of the forest to implement the MoEF order. Resorts are being denied licenses to build permanent structures. Encroached forest land is being ruthlessly recovered in Karnataka and elsewhere.

But the Birla and TVS groups have scant regard for NTCA and MoEF regulations.

In gross violation, Emerald Haven Estates Ltd (TVS group) has built two expansive bungalows (pictures and video attached) in the very heart of the tiger country. It is in the process of completing another project. We found elephant foot prints barely five feet from this yet-to-be inaugurated
property.

Considering their wealth and status in society, they should voluntarily relinquish their estates for the goodness of wildlife conservation. Perhaps, someone should educate them that our eco-system will not be the same if the tiger goes extinct. Aren’t we already reeling under the impact of global warming?

As forest and wildlife buffs, let us beseech these business tycoons to surrender their leased land to the government. If they are responsible citizens, they will. Else, they will be consigned to Veerappan’s league.

Joseph Hoover
Senior Journalist/ Member, Karnataka State Wildlife Board

 Observations of the Karnataka Forest department:

1. The total extent of forest lease land is 277 Acres 31 Guntas and 450 yards. It falls within the core area of the Tiger Reserve.

2. Coffee estates are located in the evergreen shola forests, where major streams and nullahs originate. Many streams and nullahs pass through these coffee estates, where the water is stored and used for coffee pulping and processing. Further the contaminated water is released to the natural streams, which are used by the wild animals. This issue has been raised in Hon’ble Lok Adalath.

3. Breach of trust through their inequitable acts and deeds and misrepresentation of facts. As per the agreement if any disputes or differences arises on this account the decision of the Chief Conservator of Forests (General), now PCCF (HOFF) in Karnataka will be final. C:\Documents and Settings\System-1\Desktop\Estate Eng Ltr 25-6-14.doc- S2 Instead he has prejudiciously dragged the issue to the court by twisting the facts thereby he totally violated the agreement condition.

4. Disobedience of court order: There is standing order from the court in OS No. 21/95 to pay the outstanding due. The lessee M/s. Nilgiri Plantations, Honnametti, more particularly their authorized person and the power of attorney holder, Sri. B. H. Lakhani has not bothered to comply with the court orders till today, thereby he has deliberately caused contempt of the said court orders, which needs to be dealt in accordance of law.

5. Present lease holders are not paying the lease rent to the government as per the existing government orders, but are sending the lease rent as per the old agreement. The notice had been send from this office to lease holders questioning their legality of existence and to produce the original documents of Government orders and lease agreement. Till now they have not complied.

6. Niligiri Plantation Limited, though belonging to one of the big companies, namely Birla Groups, is playing a vacillating and indecisive role in making the payment of lease rent to government, thereby becoming a defaulter.

7. Involvement in forest offence case: The power of attorney holder of Biligiri Rangan Coffee Estate Sri. B. H. Lakhani was involved in forest offence case FOC No. 3/2006-07 dtd. 08-08-2006 and FOC No. 05/2006-07 dtd. 27-09-2006 for tress pass and illegal felling of large number of trees in the leased area without the permission of forest department. Further, he was involved in illegal construction of tank in the leased area, diversion of natural water sources, mixing of chemicals into free flowing drinking water in the streams and rivers and causing damage to animal and bird life. Sri. B. H. Lakhani has been prosecuted in JMFC, Kollegal vide CC No. 171 of 2007 dtd. 04-04-2007.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sub-adult tiger dies in territorial fight in Bandipur

After a long (welcome) lull, we hear of another tiger death in the Bandipur tiger reserve, taking the tiger toll to nine in eight months in this park.

According to Deputy Conservator of Forests, Hanumanthappa, the carcass of sub-adult tiger was found near the Maddur range of the sprawling (912 sq km) national park.

"There is an indication of a fight between two tigers. There are deep claw marks on the ground. Some bushes have also been ripped out of their moorings. It is indicative of a territorial fight in which this four year old male has succumbed to injuries about four or five days ago," says Hanumanthappa.

The carcass was discovered on the fringe of the forest on Thursday morning by forest guards.

"We don't suspect any foul play as all the body parts were intact. The post mortem will reveal the cause of death," says Hanumanthappa.

ends