By Keshav Agrawal
PILIBHIT: More than 10 tigers are missing from Pilibhit Tiger Reserve. According to the tiger census report, in of 2010 the reserve had more than 40 tigers. In 2012, the tiger count was down to 30 and in 2013, the number has fallen to 23.
This rapid fall in the big cat numbers in a span of just three years has disturbed SP legislator from Barkhera assembly constituency of Pilibhit district Hemraj Verma. He has written to CM Akhilesh Yadav, expressing fear of largescale poaching and demanded a probe into why tiger numbers have fallen so drastically. On this serious issue where the divisional forest officer of PTR outright declined to give any official version, a retired chief wildlife warden of Uttar Pradesh, who had also been posted at Pilibhit as DFO about 30 years back, has not ruled out the possibility of illegal hunting of tigers.
Verma said in 2010, tiger counting had revealed the presence of more than 40 tigers and many cubs in the forest area of Pilibhit. This counting was based on pug marks and pictures captured by cameras installed by the WWF (India) and the forest department. The report of this counting had come out in 2011, the MLA has written.
Tiger counting is usually held in two years but after the 2012 counting, another round of counting was done in 2013. According to its findings, only 23 big cats remain in the reserve. Incidentally, Pilibhit was declared a Tiger Reserve this year.
The MLA pointed out that by now the cubs should have grown up and tiger numbers should have been higher.
In his letter, Verma citing WWF (India) and the forest department, said six tigers were killed as a result of infighting in Pilibhit forests from May 2012 and October 2014.
The SP MLA told TOI that the CM had assured him all possible help to tackle the matter.
When TOI contacted district forest officer DFO of Pilibhit Tiger Reserve Kailash Prakash, he declined to speak. The chief wildlife warden of Uttar Pradesh Roopak Day also refused to comment, saying he was yet to any report of tiger computation done in PTR in 2013.
However, the project manager of WWF (India) Naresh Kumar Lodhi confirmed to TOI the presence of 23 tigers in PTR, including one tigress that had strayed from an adjoining jungle in November 2012 to make a in the tall grass stretching along Kailash river in Amaria block area of Pilibhit district.
On the decline in number of tigers, a retired chief wildlife warden and a former IFS officer Mohammad Ahsan, who had been posted in Pilibhit as DFO between February 1984 and February 1986, said that the poaching of tigers not be ruled out.
K Ramesh, a tiger expert at Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, said the fall in number of tigers could be a result of poaching and disturbance of the big cat's natural habitat, which are tall grasslands and swamps.
Secretary of Save Environment Society, Pilibhit T H Khan said while poaching could not be ruled out, the number of tigers as per 2010 report could have been inflated. Khan said that the forest area of Pilibhit is contiguous up to Nepal as well as Uttarakhand. Therefore, poachers can escape to safety either to Nepal or Uttarakhand. Moreover, the range officers deployed in forest belts of Pilibhit are aged and unfit to control crime in the jungle.
A similar view was expressed by vice-president of the Wildlife Biodiversity Conservation Society Amitabh Agnihitri, who alleged that illegal felling is rampant as there are no checks in the forest. If they can get away, then why can't poachers, he asked.
(With inputs from Seema Sharma)