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C O V E R  S T O R Y

S H E R E  K H A N  C A L L I N G

Shrinking habitat..

Display of the dead

Okay. So now you know who the real culprits are. And who should be the main targets of Mowgli’s mission. But, folks, there is one more issue, a pretty serious one too, that he will have to tackle if he has to vanquish the Enemies No 1 forever.

He has to make sure that the king has the domain that he needs to survive.

Every individual tiger marks out an area for itself, which is called its range. Atigress needs about 10 to 15 square kilometres, and the male’s range covers the territory of two or three females.

But now human beings have invaded the tiger’s domain. Highways, townships, dams — the habitat of the king is slowly being taken over...

Starving to death?
Tigers can survive in coniferous woodlands, deciduous forests, mangroves and peat swamps. It’s not really fussy about its habitat. But it does require a steady supply of food to live and to reproduce.

Its favourite diet consists of ungulates or hoofed animals such as gaur, nilgai, chinkara, wild goats, wild pigs and, of course, different species of deer (moose, elk, sambar, barsingha). A full grown male needs 2,200-2,500 kilograms of meat in a year — that is, about 40 to 50 animals. A female, with cubs to raise, requires more — 60 to 70. A prey base of about 400 is required to keep a single tiger alive.

Again, a tiger can hunt only about eight to 10 per cent of the total number of hoofed creatures that are found in its habitat.

Now with the disappearing forest cover, the prey base, too, has shrunk. Leaving the tiger hungering for more...

Tigers, forests...

Indian law strictly prohibits mining inside reserves. What’s more, it states that no mining operation can be carried out within 10 kilometres of the boundary of any protected area. But illegal mining is a roaring business in and around most reserves.

Take the much-in-the news Sariska for instance. The Aravalli hills around it are mined for granite and sand. Talc or soapstone, which forms the basis of the cosmetic and detergent industries, is also mined here. There are as many as 145 of these illegal mines in Sariska and the adjacent Jamwa Ramgarh reserve.

Project Tiger: A rescue mission
Mowgli will certainly not be India’s first tiger crusader. Attempts have been made in the past to protect the royal beast. In fact, around 1970, some concerned wild life specialists began to sound the alarm bell pretty vigorously. In 1972, the first ever all India tiger census was conducted and the experts were aghast to find that only 1827 animals remained of the 40,000-strong population recorded in early 1900s!

In 1970, a national ban on tiger hunting was imposed and in 1972 the Wildlife Protection Act came into force. A 'Task Force' was then set up to formulate a project for tiger conservation "with an ecological approach".

And the Project Tiger was launched in 1973. Then it had nine reserves under it, and was entirely funded by the Union government in New Delhi. Now it is spread over 27 parks and its expenses are shared equally by the centre and the states in which these reserves are located.

For a while, it looked as if Shere Khan and his tribe were on a comeback trail. The tiger population, here, bounced back, even while the Javan, Caspian and Bali sub-species were gradually disappearing from the face of the earth.

But then something, somewhere, began to go wrong. Horribly. Tiger Census conducted by state forest departments every year started recording a frightening dip in head count.

Forest products: a lifeline for the locals

Then the Sariska National Park, that was included in the Project Tiger network way back in 1978, brought everything to a boil. Despite desperate attempts made by forest officials to trace the big cat, not a single one could be found! And what was really scary was that the entire tiger clan seemed to have simply vanished into thin air! Surely if they had all died due to some natural cause (unlikely story!) at least the carcasses would have remained! The stunned nation was not left with any such illusion…clearly the poachers had been on a rampage in Sariska.

Now we are haunted by a terrifying possibility—have the other reserves turned into empty graveyards as well?


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