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Tiger burning bright in Uttarakhand

Last updated: 19 February, 2011
Gautam Dheer in Chandigarh 21:20 IST

The State Government is elated as the number of the big cats has gone up

Ever wondered what Indian skipper Mahinder Singh Dhoni’s wedding last July did to animal lovers in the country? It brought cheers, for it helped the cause of tiger conservation. Here’s how. Two months after his marriage, Dhoni was nominated the brand ambassador for Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve in the state of Uttarakhand. For Dhoni, it was a special honour, something close to his heart. His wife Shakshi, once his school friend, is from Dehradun, where the two got married.

Now, there’s more cheery news. Tiger population in Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve that accounts for a sizeable number of tigers in the country, is set to grow significantly. Preliminary data on tigers in the habitat reveals an increase of over 15 per cent in numbers in the overall landscape of the Corbett reserve, Vice-Chairman of the Environment and Forest Advisory Committee, Uttarakhand, Anil Baluni told Deccan Herald.

“The census work, nearing completion got delayed because of incessant rains in the area. Over 150 CCTV camera recordings and pugmarks show a sizeable increase in tiger population”, he says.

The Corbett Tiger Reserve, which has 164 tigers, has the highest density of 20 tigers per hundred sq km. There are another estimated 30 tigers in the reserve landscape zone. As per the last census, India, which accounts for half the world tiger population, had just 1,411 tigers in forests. Even for a State like Uttarakhand, which promises safe habitat for these big cats, poaching is a cause of concern. To secure its tigers in the Corbett reserve, the protection force engaged in the task will now soon be given powers to open fire against poachers in case any such activity is noticed. “The power to open fire at poachers will deter any such unlawful activity,” Baluni says.

The State Government has also approved setting up of a Special Tiger Protection Force, with 112 strong youngmen, who will be equipped with the latest INSAS rifles. to guard the tigers in the Corbett Tiger Reserve. The latest figures posted by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) show six tiger deaths, including two on account of poaching, in January this year. In 2010, as many as 58 tiger deaths were reported and 30 of them because of poaching, WSPI said.

“The initiatives by the Uttarakhand government is to minimise the threat to tigers in the area. While the tiger numbers are plunging elsewhere, we are sure that the tiger population in Corbett reserve will increase considerably. These measures are being adopted to avoid even remote risk to the tigers,” says Baluni. The special force is being set up following guidelines from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Funded by the Centre, The project will cost Rs 5.7 core and involve a recurring annual cost of Rs 2.75 crore.

Local intelligence could be of vital significance for protection of these big cats. The Uttarakhand Government will rope in at least three dozen local tribal youth who are well versed with the jungle terrain, Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said. Special training will be imparted to personnel of this new proposed force to minimise response time and maximise impact, he said. For better administrative functioning of the Corbett reserve, the state recently set up a Corbett Foundation. “This will have a governing body with the forest minister as its head and representatives from the public, NGOs, wildlife experts as members,” Anil Baluni said.

The government hopes the number of these big cats will go up further in case the habitat area sees an increase. At a meeting held a fortnight ago with the member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), New Delhi, it was decided in principal that the area of Corbett Tiger Reserve will go up by another 250 square kilometres, Baluni said.

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