Tiger management is becoming high tech, and so is poaching

It is the usual tiger time again. On the one hand, the media, people and officials are going ga-ga over few direct tiger sightings reported from all over India in the ongoing Tiger Census.

 On the other are the grim reminders of the human-tiger conflict that has resurfaced in the form of recent happenings in Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks in Karnataka which have reported five cases of human killings by tigers in the last one month keeping the authorities and villagers on tenterhook.

 The problem seems to be far from over despite catching one such alleged murderous animal. These incidents have prompted the state government to undertake a long over due measure of setting up a dedicated staff of sharp shooters and trained departmental vets to tackle above type of exigencies. This ought to have been done long back. Nevertheless this step will instill confidence among people in the villages living on forest fringes that have been on war path with the forest department.  

Then there were media reports in Karnataka of about 400 cameras being donated by a global tech service provider for fixing them in one of the prime national parks of the state to ostensibly closely monitor the health and well-being of the 60-odd tigers reported to be living in the above-mentioned national park. It is a moot point whether such an invasion in the privacy of tiger land is ecologically and scientifically desirable. There is another small matter that some of such donors have tourism and resort running interests. But these are beside the point.

What is noteworthy is that the tiger management is becoming high tech with the use of camera traps, GPS path finders, DNA mapping and the likes becoming essential tool-kits of the foresters and wild life managers. And why not? Are we not living in the age where technology is paramount and not seen being with it would make one feel not only out of the league but would perhaps be suicidal. So it is good that a lot of emphasis is being given to technology in wild life management in general and tiger management in particular.

But it would be of utmost importance to not only train and upgrade the skills of the staff in the usage of the modern tools but also in its proper maintenance. It would be equally essential to strengthen and upgrade the traditional protection mechanisms at ground level with greater attention towards the support of villagers, moral and welfare of frontline staff, modernisation of anti poaching camps, investing in intelligence gathering and reward system and bringing in more systematic and professional set up in the department for investigation, arrest and prosecution mechanism -- all of which, sadly, do not get the required push and support. Even the tiger protection force raised in some states is demoralised due to lack of coordination and for want of well defined role and responsibility of these forces. 

Huge concern

These need to be changed forthwith if we have to successfully meet the challenge of tiger poaching which remains unabated and is becoming high tech. The latest figures collected by the Wild Life Protection Society India (showing 39 cases of tiger poaching reported in the country this year as against 31 last year) are a matter of huge concern for those who know and keep an eye over tiger conservation issues in the country. Even the National Tiger Conservation Authority figures of 66 tiger deaths and five seizures so far this year are alarming. 

No doubt there were some very good efforts by the state police and forest authorities when they thwarted poaching attempts in the western and the southern part of the country through Karnataka/Tamilnadu/Maharashtra and nipped it in the bud by timely arrest of the poachers. But constant vigil will have to be kept on our forests as the high tech poachers will do anything to be one up on authorities thanks to vast money to be made in illegal tiger trade which has worldwide ramifications.

Some years back when the infamous poacher Sansar chand was finally brought to book by CBI, it was thought that the menace of tiger poaching in the country was over. But apparently it was not to be. The international tiger syndicate is not letting any pause in its hunger for tiger parts needed in the grey market for meeting, chiefly the insatiable but largely unsubstantiated, medical use of these parts world over. 

The poachers have also become tech savvy.There have been reports of large scale cyanide poisoning, use of night vision goggles and upgradation of their weaponry by these poachers. They have also made attempts to hack the e-mail of one wildlife manager to steal data from a tiger’s GPS collar. It was also reported that some private airlines crew were allegedly used as carriers for poached tiger parts from the North East states. All these developments pose a big challenge to us and it is hoped that  those vested with the responsibility of protecting  the heritage animal of the country would take timely action before it is too late. 

(The writer is a retired principal chief conservator of forests, Karnataka)

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