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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Once again - the Kerwa tiger


Very encouraging reports have been appearing in the newspapers about the forests around the Kerwa and Kaliasot dams close to Bhopal, a town of more than 1.8 million people. The camera traps installed to monitor the movement of the tiger that has repeatedly been seen in these forests have recorded a thriving wildlife population. Apart from the tiger, among the animals trapped in the camera are leopards, bears, wild boars, foxes and a species of cat that has so far defied identification and has not been seen for quite some time. It is through the instrumentality of the tiger that the forest department has acquired the knowledge about the presence of several species of wildlife in these forests. That they have survived for so long in the vicinity of such a large town despite the depredations of unthinking men is quite a wonder. None, however, knows how diverse the flora in these jungles is.

I recall having read in the net some of the impressions of these jungles recorded by a few former students of the National Law Institute University, an institution of national repute, built close to Kerwa. They used to go on treks in the jungles surrounding the Institute and had recorded glowing reports about them. They did not see tigers but they used to frequently see the other big cat, the leopard, apart from various other herbivores. These boys would venture into the forests for the sake of pleasure meaning no harm to their denizens. However, with the news of the wildlife population appearing in the press now, shikaris have started frequenting the forests. Fortunately the forest department has got wise about the goings on, thanks to the frequent sightings of the tiger.

The tiger seems to have settled down in this environment. Barring a few cattle-kills it has not harmed humans so far. In fact, according to reports that appeared in the vernacular press, a herder even chased it away with the help of his cane. Apparently, it finds the habitat conducive (recently reported to be excellent) and has, therefore, not moved back to where it came from, presumably the Ratapani sanctuary. As indicated earlier, either the prey-base has shrunk or the tiger numbers have gone up far too much for it to find itself comfortable in the sanctuary. The sanctuary should have become a tiger reserve but for the intervention of the Chief Minister who appears to be somewhat anti-tiger conservation. The Ministry of Environment & Forest of the government of India has already approved its conversion into a tiger reserve.

The forest department has, however, been mulling various options to deal with the tiger which, it seems, is kind of a problem for them. There was a proposal to fence off the Kerwa and Kaliasot dam areas. The latest, however, is to relocate it to Madhav National Park Shivpuri, which from available reports has inadequate prey-base to support tigers. There were reports of a tiger residing in it but it seems to have moved away to adjoining Kuno-Palpur forests. One wonders as to why the department is keen to take this trouble. If a tiger that is the denizen of the forest is confining itself within its boundaries there seems to be no reason to physically move it to as far away as Shivpuri. Quite rightly, an experienced forest officer, the former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, JJ Dutta, has reminded the department of the case of the tiger that was relocated to Panna from the Pench Tiger Reserve. Guided by its strong homing instinct, it had started marching towards Pench. Luckily it was not poached before it was apprehended scores of miles away from Panna Tiger Reserve. Another forest old-timer, PM Lad, in whose time Van Vihar was created, has said that it is the humans who have encroached into the tiger territory and not vice versa. He felt that any harm coming to the tiger in relocating it would make a dent in the process of conservation of the species.

Obviously, everyone, including wildlife experts, wants the tiger to be allowed to rest in peace in the surroundings it finds congenial. One wonders whether the forest department, led by the Forest Minister, is being forced into action by colonisers and/or construction lobbies who are very close to the current government. One recalls that the tiger is moving in areas that include Chandanpura where the Sanskaar Valley School of the Dainik Bhaskar Group is located and where land-use change was proposed in the now-cancelled Bhopal Development Plan 2021. Curiously, all the forest areas around the town are being eyed by these lobbies and, perhaps, that is the reason for widening of the road to Kerwa that has been undertaken at the cost of about 10000 trees which are going to be felled.

Instead of translocating the tiger the forest department would do well to listen to voices of reason and take steps to ensure that it is comfortable in the forests of Kerwa and Kaliasot and that it in no way harms the humans in and around them. Such an action would retain the biodiversity of these jungles in their natural state for the benefit of everyone, including the people of Bhopal who, in fact, will benefit the most for reasons that hardly need reiteration. If for this reason the forests would need to be fenced, so be it.

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