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Tigers missing,it’s a jungle out there

Early on Wednesday,when the runaway ‘maneater’ from Corbett National Park was captured,it was taken to Nainital Zoo. But just a few days ago....

Written by Neha Sinha | New Delhi | Published: February 12, 2009 4:25 pm

Early on Wednesday,when the runaway ‘maneater’ from Corbett National Park was captured,it was taken to Nainital Zoo. But just a few days ago,there was a death warrant on the head on the big cat,which had killed a woman in Dhikulin earlier this month. A letter from the Centre directing the Uttarakhand government not to shoot the animal is what saved its life. Four other tigers may not get such a reprieve. In an unprecedented man-animal conflict situation,four tigers (not counting the Corbett one) have been branded ‘maneaters’ in the terai belt,home to the densest tiger population in the world.

The four tigers still on the loose,are currently being tracked by the UP Forest Department — if capturing them ifails,they are willing to kill these big cats. Shoot-at-sight orders had been given for the Corbett tiger and another near Faizabad. But shooting orders or not,villagers are up in arms against the ‘maneaters’. So far,eight people have died in various incidents.

“When there is a disturbed tiger in an area,the problem is not just of capturing it. It is a security issue that needs to be dealt with in a curfew-like manner,” says National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) member secretary Rajesh Gopal. Unfortunately,the forest departments in two of the richest tiger states,have failed to create such conditions.

Instead,UP has granted several licenses to private individuals to kill a ‘maneater’at Faizabad and has declared “capture or kill” orders for the animal at a speed that has outraged conservationists. “On one hand,we promote tiger tourism,and on the other,we don’t hesitate to condemn them to death,” said tiger conservationist Belinda Wright.

“Why are so many permits are being given to shoot the tiger at Faizabad? This task should be left to professionals,” added Ashok Kumar from the Wildlife Trust of India.

Two erstwhile nawabs are among those permitted to shoot the tiger,which reports say has been shot but not killed. It strayed away from Pilibhit on November 5 and reached Lucknow in January. Forest Department officials say they were under “political pressure” to “deal” with it. A District Magistrate even announced a cash reward for anyone capturing the animal. In a January note,the NTCA wrote that it had observed camera crews and mobs following the tiger,making the animal even more hostile.

Away from this “political pressure”,a second ‘man-eater’ is being tracked in Azamgarh. But devoid of the mob frenzy,this animal has shown less aggression. However,the frenzy to kill the tiger”exists even here. On December 31,an inebriated man entered the sugarcane fields near Azamgarh,ostensibly to kill the tiger. “The tiger killed the man but did not eat him,” said Hemant Kumar,Conservator of Forests,Varanasi. In the dry fields of Azamgarh,the Forest Department is still trying to rehabilitate the animal. “We are currently observing the tiger. It has attacked no one so far. It has travelled 200 km from the UP-Bihar border over two months,” he said. Two more tigers are currently on the loose in Lakhimpur Kheri and Bahraich. Three people have been killed in the area. These two,along with the Faizabad tiger,have all strayed out from the same Dudhwa-Pilibhit area.

“Tigers have always been strayed from the nearby forests,especially in the mating season. There are 36 tigers in Pilibhit itself. The problem is that people panic,but do no understand the tiger’s habits,” said P K Gupta,Divisional Forest Officer,Pilibhit.

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