Need for caution

There is growing evidence to prove that relocation of big cats, especially when it is done without planning, consultation and transparency is not the best way of conserving their species or preventing man-animal or even animal-animal conflict.Tigers and other big cats that were shifted into forests and sanctuaries that are not their traditional habitat have not all done too well in their new homes. This was the case with the three-year-old tiger that was released just three months ago into the Bhadra Reserve after he strayed several hundreds of kilometres away from Bandipur.

Last week, he got into a fight over territory with another tiger, was severely injured and died. Relocation of the big cats is one of the core components of India’s conservation strategy. Thus several tigers have been relocated from Ranthambore sanctuary to Sariska and from Kanha National Park to Panna Tiger Reserve and so on. The logic proffered is that Ranthambore is ‘overpopulated’ and relocating some of its tigers to Sariska, whose entire tiger population was wiped out by poachers, would serve to repopulate it. India’s translocation of tigers has had its successes. Last year, a tiger translocated from Ranthambore to Sariska gave birth to three cubs in her new home in the wild.

But it is not without its problems. Tigers are aggressively territorial animals. The arrival of a ‘foreign’ tiger is often fiercely resisted by local predators. Wildlife experts have repeatedly warned that translocating tigers, especially adults, could prove disastrous. This is particularly so when done without planning or preparation. It was reported recently, that over the past six months, several leopards from the Bellary region have been translocated to Dandeli in violation of rules. Their new home is reportedly not conducive to leopards. Much opacity and arbitrariness shrouds translocation of the wild cats.

They are often being moved not so much to protect them but to safeguard vested interests. Wanting to repopulate Sariska is understandable. But why bring tigers to this park when the threat posed by poachers here is still unaddressed. Are tigers being brought here to feed the tiger trade? Are Bellary’s mining mafias behind the eviction of leopards from the area? Translocation must be transparent. Else, vested interests will drive the cats in directions that could destroy them.

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