By Sudhanshu Mishra
It's increasingly worrisome at the Ranthambore National Park (RNP), with 15 tigers disappearing in the past two years. Of these missing tigers, five have disappeared in the past six months. Experts believe that in such a situation poaching couldn’t be ruled out.
The five tigers missing for the past six months — whose whereabouts are not known to the forest authorities —included four males and two females. The male tigers are five-yearold T-47 (popularly known as Mohan); and T- 55, T-64 and T-65 —all about three year old; besides the female tiger T48, which is about five year old.
While divisional forest officer Sudarshan Sharma said these were sub-adult tigers that were perhaps busy in carving out their own territories, chief wildlife warden S.N. Singh conceded that some tigers of Ranthambore were missing and the officers concerned were directed to find them out.
However, the authorities have failed to find the whereabouts of three other big cats that are missing for the past 10 months to 18 months. These tigers — T-67 and T-68, both aged four years, and cub of tigress T-41 — are missing for the past 18 months. Similarly, another twoyear- old cub of tigress T41 is missing for about 10 months.
RNP tiger expert Dhirendra Godha asserted that their disappearance and the failure of the authorities to track them expose the poor system of monitoring the animals in the park. He alleged that the past history of the park did not rule out the possibility of poaching in the sanctuary.
Initial indications of poaching of Ranthambore big cats emerged some two years back when tigress T-17 disappeared from the park, leaving behind her three newborn cubs. Initially the forest authorities claimed that the tigress must be around, notwithstanding the fact that a tigress would never desert her cubs. But the tigress never returned. RNP sources conceded that she had developed the habit of roaming near the hilly track bordering the park where illegal mining had been going on. And the obvious inference was that she was killed at the instance of the mining mafia, sources added.
During the search operation to track T-17, a degenerated carcass was found near village Bhid and its viscera was sent to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). The WII, in turn, reported that the carcass belonged to a leopard that was poisoned and sought a detailed report. The detailed report was never sent and the matter was allegedly hushed up.
Around that time another tigress numbered T31 disappeared in similar circumstances, leaving behind its two six-month-old cubs. The incident was never investigated. Similarly in December 2012 a big cat was killed by poisoning and the forest officials could not identify the animal after its carcass was found in Khandar region. Even its sex couldn’t be determined either as its rear portion was missing.
These are not the only tigers whose whereabouts couldn’t be traced so far. Two tigers, T40 and T21, have been missing since 2010 and three big cats, tiger T29 and two tigresses T27 and T14, have been missing since 2011. Significantly, though tiger T21 was collared, the forest department has failed to find it out so far.
Not ruling out the possibility of their poaching, Sunayan Sharma, president of Sariska Tiger Foundation, an NGO working on the tigers, said that the most neglected aspect in the states’ sanctuaries was the habitat management. Tourism, a by-product of sanctuaries, was given top priority. It was for this reason monitoring of the animals was put on the backburner, he opined.
Godha asserted that a monitoring cell comprising senior experts must be set up in Jaipur to keep a track of the tigers in the sanctuaries and this must not be left only to the field staff and local officials.
Meanwhile, expressing ignorance over the disappearance of tigers Rajasthan Minister of State for Forest Raj Kumar Rinwa said that on Wednesday a meeting of Ranthambore officers was held where the officers claimed everything was fine. “The only thing that I was told that at times tigers from RNP strayed away to Madhya Pradesh. But if so many tigers were missing I would seek information in detail and further action would be taken,” he asserted.
Significantly, it was in the same fashion that Sariska became tiger-less in 2004 when officials claimed everything to be fine but the tigers disappeared mainly due to poaching, pointed out a tiger expert. Subsequently, a tiger reintroduction programme was taken up in 2008. More....