A controversy is raging in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Uttar Pradesh, with reports of the district magistrate of Lakhimpur Kheri, Kinjal Singh, frequently entering the Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary, which is part of Dudhwa’s core critical habitat, after hours, and often with guests, blatantly violating rules. All such night movement has been captured in camera traps installed at different locations, and recorded in registers maintained by the forest department, and can be verified. Of particular concern is the Bel Danda area near Road number 17 in Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary, which was the natal range of a tigress with four cubs.
Dudhwa staff objected to the violation, and the consequent disturbance, which they knew would destabilise the tigress, but they were overruled, and their concerns brushed aside. Shockingly, the nightly visits continued, obstructing the forest staff from discharging their duty of protecting wildlife.
Such frequent intrusion disturbed the tigress, and caused her to move out of the reserve with her four cubs into adjoining sugarcane fields, rendering the cubs very vulnerable, and potentially creating a serious human-wildlife conflict situation, which is anyway extremely high in this region. Tigresses are very protective of their cubs, and will only raise them where they feel the young are secure. Even the slightest disruption disturbs a young mother, struggling to bring up her cubs.
Unfortunately, displaced from their "nursery" into a human-dominated landscape, this tiger family has met a horrific end. One cub was found dead on January 4, 2016. On the same day, another cub was discovered in a sugarcane field and was gheraoed and driven away by the villagers. About ten days later, on the night of January 15-16, another cub was found stranded on the terrace of a house in Tanda Farm village surrounded by stray dogs. Though the forest staff managed to chase the dogs away and allow the young tiger to escape into the forest, the cub has vanished since. It’s young, about eight or nine-months-old, and is unlikely to survive on its own.
Of the tigress and her other two cubs, there is no trace.
|Carcass of one of the tiger cubs.|
Says conservationist and editor of Sanctuary Asia Bittu Sahgal, “By all accounts the forest staff is highly demotivated and demorialised by the actions of the DM, but still continue their search for the missing tigers.”
Working in remote forests and in tough conditions with the bare minimal of facilities, the job of a forester is very tough. They deal with volatile conflict situations in which they bear the brunt of irate mobs, regulate encroachments, and activities like grazing, smuggling of timber and so on, to keep wildlife safe, but it is largely a thankless job. A tigress with cubs is usually a matter of great pride for the staff, and zealously guarded. To be harassed for doing their duty, and the loss of the tigress and her cubs is disheartening, and inexcusable.
According to reports, the district magistrate has brushed away the allegations and has cited the “call of duty, while following government directives” as her reason to enter the park at night. She has also cited communication about possible movement of Naxalites at the India-Nepal border. She has also claimed illegal tree-felling, which warranted late, and surprise, visits.
|Another tiger cub, stranded, and harried by village dogs.|
Conservationists point out that there has been recurrent entry at all hours over months (since April 2015) and usually with guests, without going through proper channels or informing senior forest authorities. This, they say, is in contravention of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and violates rules of sanctuaries where visits are restricted to certain hours. And it violates the spirit of conservation.
Was the district magistrate accompanied by the concerned forest official, or wildlife warden, in case of a forest offence like timber-smuggling; or police personnel in case of a serious security matter, is the question that needs to be answered.
Sahgal has called for an enquiry into the matter by the chief wildlife warden and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), and if the allegations are true, disciplinary action needs to be taken immediately.
The Dudhwa Tiger Reserve is part of the Terai-Arc landscape, which has been identified as a critical tiger habitat, vital to the long-term survival of the Royal Bengal Tiger. Not just the tiger, Dudhwa has other rare and endangered species such as the one-horned rhino, elephants, swamp deer, hig deer, Asiatic black bear, Benglar florican and hispid hare.
Dudhwa is Uttar Pradesh’s flagship reserve and is besieged by many problems and multiple threats, not least of which are intrusions in its finest grasslands in Sathiana Range and Katarnighat sanctuary, mismanagement, rowdy tourism and the plan to construct the Gaurifanta-Chandanchauki road along the India-Nepal border which will cut through the reserve’s most pristine part, and split the contagious tiger habitat of Dudhwa-Katarniaghat-Lakhimpur-Shulkaphanta.
Hence, it is even more crucial that those protecting our national animal, and other rare wildlife that Dudhwa harbours, the forest personnel must be enabled and empowered to do so, and they must know that the state and the people are backing them in their task.