Probe tigers' death, punish the guilty

Karnataka’s pride in being home to the largest number of tigers in the country – one of the most endangered species of animals in the world – was dented with the accidental death of four tigers in a matter of a fortnight. That two of them were actually ‘murdered’ by careless officials of the state forest department in botched up tranquilisation efforts, speak of the department’s ill-preparedness to deal with such situations. The first of the incidents, outside the Nagarahole Reserve, in which a straying tiger was pursued by the forest staff late into the night and darted thrice, happened Tuesday last. Senior officials have admitted that the big cat died of an overdose of the tranquiliser and the operation was carried out in complete violation of the guidelines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), but till now no action has been taken against the guilty. Environment and Forests Minister B Ramanath Rai should order an inquiry and hand out punishment at the earliest to all those involved.

The magnificent tigers, whose worldwide population has plummeted from around one lakh a century ago to less than 4,000 according to Global Tiger Forum, play a critical role in keeping a check on herbivore population that devour forests and in maintaining the ecological balance. India is home to 70% of global tiger population and the 2015 census put Karnataka on top of the list with 406 tigers, a majority of them being in the Bandipur and Nagarahole reserve forests. Ever since the launch of Project Tiger in 1972 with the creation of nine core buffer areas, which have since expanded to 48 tiger reserves across the country, India has been able to arrest the decline in the tigers’ population. Utilising generous funding from the Centre, Karnataka too was able to create necessary infrastructure for conservation. The Kudremukh National Park, which has received NTCA approval, should be notified at the earliest in order to create more space for tigers. But there’s no denying that burgeoning human population has led to indiscriminate felling of trees and encroachment of forests, resulting in the ever-shrinking of space for animals and a sharp increase in man-animal conflicts.

The escalation in cases of wild animals straying into human habitats has understandably put the forest department officials in a dilemma. They come under enormous pressure from the public as well as elected representatives to save humans and their standing crops, while they also have responsibility towards animals. As far as tigers are concerned, Karnataka has perhaps breached the sustainability point and the Central government should come to its rescue by exploring the possibility of relocating some of them to other states or even Nepal, Bangladesh or China with whom bilateral arrangements exist.
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