Parrikar jibe may set back tiger reserve hopes

Mayabhushan Nagvenkar   |  Panaji


The tiger may not yet get its due in Goa - if Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has his way.

A four-year-long campaign for a tiger reserve at the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in northeastern Goa, an endeavour endorsed by the state forest ministry as well as the union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), has virtually been guillotined by Parrikar.

"One sparrow does not make a summer," Parrikar erroneously said earlier this week when asked if the government would send a proposal to the MoEF to upgrade the sanctuary to a tiger reserve after the presence of a female tiger was recorded by forest department officials earlier this year.

"Until now only one tiger has been found. That is not reason enough. I have asked them to study it," Parrikar said.

While Parrikar quickly corrected his earlier erroneous phrase, switching from "sparrow" to "swallow", his facts about the tiger and its tryst with Goa continue to be fraught with error.

In 2009, poachers snared and killed a full-grown tiger in the same sanctuary but destroyed its carcass to avoid arrest. Photographs of the slain animal, protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Act and forensic evidence later collected by the forest department officials from the site, confirmed that the animal was a tiger.

Tiger-kills have also been recorded by forest officials in the northeastern forests, whenever the beasts strayed into human habitats to kill cattle and other livestock.

But the question of officially establishing the presence of the tiger in Goa is an economic question and not an existential one, say environmentalists, who claim that the powerful mining industry and politicians and bureaucrats have combined to keep the feline off the state's fauna logbook.

"It is beyond doubt that these forests were always a home for tigers. The forest officials have denied this because the presence of tigers means the setting up of a reserve. And that, in turn, would mean mining has to stop in those areas," said activist Rajendra Kerkar, who first documented the tiger poaching in the same sanctuary in 2009.

So much so that a former forest department chief called the tigers in Goa mere migratory beasts that only use Goa as a travel corridor. This myth was subsequently busted by tiger expert Mike Pandey.

Goa's hinterland forests are a part of the Western Ghats, where fauna and avian life run free while below the soil lie millions of tonnes of iron ore deposits that are eyed by mining giants.

"The Western Ghats in Goa serve as habitat for tigers when they multiply and are looking for new areas to settle in. I have been working in the Tillari and Dandeli region and the Western Ghats of southern Goa. I have been following the pug marks of a tiger in the region for the last 10 years and can say that the predator is indigenous and has not migrated to the region," Pandey recently told a national daily.

The MoEF had already sent repeated missives to the state government for a proposal justifying the setting up of a tiger reserve at Mhadei. Goa Forest Minister Alina Saldanha too was thrilled when her officials who had placed motion-sensor equipped cameras tracked down the beast.

"The formal recording of the tiger's presence is big news indeed. It will make the process for setting up of the tiger reserve much easier," Saldanha said, weeks before Parrikar's statement.

Whether mining and political indecision will deprive Goa of a tiger sanctuary within the state's borders is now the million dollar question.

The Mhadei wildlife sanctuary, spread over 208 sq km, is one of four such in Goa. - IANS