WITHIN A week of the TEHELKA report (Blasting the Tigers Away, 6 April), the Rajasthan Forest Department has transferred key officials from the Sariska Tiger Reserve. Rajasthan Forest Minister Bina Kak took the decision to shift assistant conservator of forests (ACF) Ghanshyam Sharma, ACF Dharampal Yadav and range officer (RO) Uday Ram out of the tiger reserve on 11 April. The three have been replaced by ACF Bhawani Singh, ACF Man Singh Meena and RO JS Hada, respectively. The department also filled up the vacant research officer’s post at Sariska with ACF Vipin Gupta. The Sariska shake-up, say sources, is not complete yet and more “clean-up orders” will follow.
Earlier on 10 April, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court instructed the Rajasthan government to conduct an “appropriate inquiry” into the findings of the TEHELKA report and immediately stop construction work in Sariska Tiger Reserve. On 9 April, Dr Dharmendra Khandal, a field biologist with Ranthambhore-based NGO Tiger Watch, wrote to the CEC, drawing attention to the TEHELKA report, and sought immediate intervention.
Hours before the CEC intervention, Forest Minister Kak held a meeting with top forest officials and decided not to pursue a fresh loan of Rs 3 crore from NABARD for constructing six new anicuts. She also constituted a field inquiry to examine the status of the construction work at Sariska. “The anicuts that are at an advanced stage of construction will be completed by the end of this month. We will stop work wherever the construction is at an early stage once I get the report next week,” says Kak.
In its order (File No. 1-26/CEC/SC/2011-Pt.XXXXII) to the Rajasthan chief secretary, CEC member-secretary M Jiwrajka wrote: “Immediate action may please be taken to ensure that no work is undertaken in violation of the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and/or the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and/or which may cause disturbance/fragmentation of the habitat in Sariska Tiger Reserve.”
Meanwhile, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) member-secretary Dr Rajesh Gopal has asked the Forest Department to hold an inquiry. In a June 2009 communiqué, the NTCA had asked the state to “strictly adhere to” the NTCA guidelines and the directives of the SC regarding construction activities inside tiger reserves. “We will put a high-level panel in place to monitor the reserve in future,” says Dr Rajesh Gopal. The NTCA is in the process of constituting a fact-finding team that will soon visit Sariska.
NTCA refines phase iv Protocols for monitoring Tiger populations
TWO WEEKS after the TEHELKA report (Still Counting More Tigers Per Tiger, 30 March), the NTCA on 14 April adopted refined protocols for intensive monitoring of tiger source populations under Phase IV of the National Tiger Estimation.
The new protocols will enable state forest departments to formally collaborate with qualified scientists and enable them to shift from estimating minimum numbers of tigers to robust estimates of population density, change in numbers over time, survival and other crucial parameters. The collaborative process is expected to ensure robust scientific standards as well as greater transparency in data collection and analyses.
“We fine-tuned the protocols for better results. It may not always be possible for reserve managers to access adequately qualified scientists. So it (Phase IV) will be a ‘ladder process’ in which tiger reserves will graduate from routine management-oriented monitoring to intensive scientific monitoring,” says NTCA member-secretary Dr Rajesh Gopal.
“When implemented fully, these refinements will put India’s tiger monitoring programme well ahead of any other in the world,” says Dr Ullas Karanth, director, Wildlife Conservation Society-India, whose team of scientists collaborated with the NTCA and the Wildlife Institute of India on the protocols.
The analysis of the data will be done in collaboration with a technical expert/scientist conversant with spatially-explicit capture-recapture process. The NTCA also noted that the period of leaving the camera traps open is important owing to the fundamental assumption of “population closure” (no deaths/ births /immigrations/emigrations) and that leaving the cameras open for longer duration may lead to over estimation.