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Are Lion Tailed Macaque More Fortunate than Panna Tigers: A Tale of Two Projects

Almost a  year after the Karnataka high court stayed the project that had further threatened the already endangered lion tailed macaque (LTM) ((Macaca silenus), endemic to the Sharavathi river valley nestled in the Western Ghats; the sword of Damocles continues to hang over the primates. The Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) had launched a geothermal survey  with heavy machines to ascertain if the 2000 MW underground pump storage hydro-electric project was feasible. Besides LTM, the Sharavathi river valley is also home to a diverse array of species and sustains very rich biodiversity. Though the  court stay continues, the south Indian state has not yet withdrawn the project. For the time being, the power project may not have been in the priority list of the government after the change in the political guard, it continues to stare at LTM menacingly. Sharavathi Valley, a Jewel in the Western Ghats The project was proposed within the core area of 902 sq km in the Sharavathi Valle

Another tiger dies : Panna 'queen' death raises question over wildlife protection in MP

Mystery shrouds the death of a radio –collared breeding tigress in Panna national park. Tracked and monitored 24X7 through the radio collar around her neck, the tigress, code named P213, was recovered three days after the death on June 28. Decomposed carcass was found lying in the forest patch of the core area of the tiger reserve where the feline was born about a decade ago. Known as the queen of the Panna, P213 was progeny of T2, the tigress rehabilitated from Kanha National park as a part of the reintroduction of the big cats in this national park, known for wonderful wildlife.

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On June 28, when P213 strong stench of the tigress carcass drew the attention of the park authorities, the body had already decomposed.  With their faces wrapped by cloth, the park employees placed the body of the ‘queen' over a piece of plastic. The accompanying veterinarians found the internal organs were eaten by the wild animals. There was hardly any body part left to be sent for further analysis to ascertain the reasons behind the death. Still,   a piece of the carcass was sent for forensic analysis. The whole episode had put a big question mark over the wildlife conservation in the park.

Poaching? No, says park authorities.

However, it is feared that “nothing much is going to be revealed “ by the forensic analysis . Even otherwise, the hands of lab technicians are full of work because of various corona virus related works going on in the lab, park authorities said. They believe there was no foul play in the death of P213. “Fight with a male tiger seems to be the cause behind the death”, park authorities believe wildlife protection work is headed in the right direction in the park .  They said they found some telltale signs of   “animal conflict” on the jungle patch   between Talgaon and Mahuamod inside the core area. They also found that the body was “dragged”.  There was no case of poaching as there were no marks of injury  or bullet , they said .But the million dollar question was how the staff monitoring the tiger by its collar missed all the signals. Is proper monitoring of the tigers taking place in the forest or 24X7 monitoring is a farce .Wildlife lovers are apprehensive because of the poaching cases of tigers in the park before 2008 leading to death of all the big cats.  This was followed by the tiger reintroduction programme and P213 was born.  After six litters in the last one decade, a large number of tigers are believed to be the descendants of this tigress.

Mockery  of Monitoring?

A radio collared tiger is monitored round the clock in three shifts, 8 hour each.  The process of tracking a tiger by  radio collar is also monitored by the field director  among other officials managing the park. Every signal emanating by the collar has a meaning.  But authorities said that of late some radio collars have been emanating false mortality signals. “ When there is no movement in the collar  for six hours-  generally  the collar continues to  shake as the tiger walks , runs  or even when it rests and there is movement of the neck-  it means  it is a mortality signal”, they explain. But recently when  such signals are received and the staff rush to the spot , they find the tiger alive and kicking, a  collar tracking team member said. “ It has happened several times leading to confusion”, they said.   They also said that even when a dead tiger is dragged, the motion of the dead body leads to shaking of the  collar giving the impression that the tiger is alive.  However, many experts “ rubbishes” this theory. “This is nonsense”, they said. They said that the whole issue needs a thorough probe and the  entire tiger monitoring  of Panna tiger reserve should be  put under scanner.  Raising  doubts over the  sincerity of monitoring, they also want to know whether the tiger  collars  used in Panna are “ VHF or those Satellite collars.”

Highest  tiger deaths in 12 years in MP

In the last 8 years between 2012 to 2019, Madhya Pradesh reported highest number of 173 deaths of tigers, 38 of them were cases of poaching, 94  cases were put under the category of natural deaths, 19  still investigated and under scrutiny, six due to the unnatural causes and 16 seizures-  where a tiger is presumed dead on the basis of body parts seized by authorities. Madhya Pradesh also has the highest number of 526 tigers in the country.

 

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IN all there were as many as 750 tigers have died in the country   in the 8 year period between 2012 and 2019,  poaching was one of the causes. The highest casualties of  173 were reported from Madhya Pradesh alone. According to the  National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)  “natural causes “ were the reason  behind 369  tiger deaths, 168 due to poaching, 70 deaths were under scrutiny and 42 due to unnatural reasons and this include accidents or conflicts events.  There was also seizure of 101 big cats (during the eight year period between 2012 and 2019 by different authorities across the country. Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar had in December said that tiger population in the country had increased by 750 in the last four years from 2,226 to 2,976. "Now the tiger count is 2,976. We must be proud of our whole ecological system. Tigers have increased by 750 in the last four years," Javadekar had informed the Rajya Sabha.

Mystery behind the death of Panna queen should be uncovered

The tiger mortality data revealed by the NTCA also  suggests that a large number of tiger deaths  continued to be “ under scrutiny”  for a long period.  In the past one year or so, two big cats- one each a tiger and a leopard – have died. However, the reasons behind their deaths are still unknown. But Panna’s queen should get justice and the monitoring of radio collars should be strengthened. 

 


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