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26.02.2009 Asia

Indian Tigers die in Kaziranga

By Nava Thakuria

The fate of tigers in Kaziranga National Park is in shamble that brings serious concern for the wildlife lovers and environment activists of Northeast India. The Assam's wildlife reserve of international fame is presently in the media headline, but again for wrong reasons. Kaziranga, which is more popularly known as a safe heaven for the endangered one horn rhinos grabbed media attention with the death of ten tigers in the last 100 days.

The death of big cats, which is India's national animal, in the park brought the realisation for the wildlife lovers that not only the rhinoceros unicornis, but the other inmates are also facing an increasing threat in Kaziranga, which was declared a national park by the Indian government in 1974 (and a World Heritage Site in 1985).

That the population of tigers in the region has come down drastically, the voice was heard at the parliament as well. The Union Minister of State (MoS) for Environment and Forest, S. Reghupathy had recently informed the Rajya Sabha that the tiger population in Northeast has reduced to nearly 84.

Covering an area of 430 sq km (with an additional area of over 400 sq

km) on the southern bank of the mighty river Brahmaputra, Kaziranga (now under Project Tiger) is understandably home to nearly 60 Indian tigers (scientific name Panthera Tigris). On the other hand, the picturesque reserve gives shelter to almost two-thirds of the total population of one-horned rhinos on Earth.

The authority, while responding to the concern of the wildlife activists at the unprecedented rise of tiger's death in Kaziranga insisted that those deaths were not related to poaching. MC Malakar, chief conservator of forest (wildlife) of Assam insisted that three of the tigers died due to old age, one each died in cases of infighting, poisoning by local villagers, fights with buffaloes. Three other decomposed bodies, which were recovered from inside the reserve, might too indicate cases of poisoning.

Nature's Beckon, an active environmental organisation of the region has however alleged that it was because of the inefficiency and corruption of the forest department. Its director Soumyadeep Datta argued that the sole reason for the inmates' deaths may not be the poaching, however the deaths related to poisoning is also a serious issue, which the state forest department cannot overlook.

"The tigers are suspected to be targeted by the villagers in the fringe localities of the park. The poor villagers get irritated with the loss of cattle and even the human injury because of the big cats'

entry to the villages in search of food, which finally tempts them to take revenges," Datta reasoned.

The Kaziranga park director S N Buragohain also admitted that the number of incidents of man-tiger conflicts increased in the recent past because of shrinking habitats. An adult tiger needs about five kg of meat every day. The tigers of the park are often reported as moving towards the nearby villages in search of prey, which creates enmity among the residents to the mammals.

"In such cases, the duty of the authority is to promptly address the growing resentment of the victim families who have been living in the fringe areas of the park," reiterated Datta, adding that the authority only loves to talk about finding more funds. But they show little interest in involving the local population in preservation. Moreover, the forest department does not take initiative to give compensation to the affected villagers, he asserted.

The central government allocates compensation funds for the affected families, but Datta and others charge that forest officials siphon these funds away. Their activists survey the areas often and found that nobody has received any compensation for their losses from the forest department.