THE first-ever “security audit” of four tiger reserves in Maharashtra has found “the reserves are being manned very well”. Authorised by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a four-member team from Global Tiger Forum (GTF), an intergovernmental body of tiger range countries, led by former Karnataka head of Forest Force B K Singh, completed the audit of the four reserves — Tadoba-Andhari, Pench, Navegaon-Nagzira and Melghat — on Thursday.
“I was pleasantly surprised to find that Maharashtra had done very well to protect its tigers,” Singh told The Indian Express. “One of the best things to have happened to these reserves is that each has a dedicated Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF). They comprise 120 young armed members, including 30 per cent women, and are proving to be extremely useful. Normally, armed poachers can cause harm to regular forest department ground staff but the presence of STPF has had a good deterrent effect,” Singh said. “That’s not the situation in many other states. Karnataka, for example, has only one STPF,” he added.
The NTCA has assigned the task to assess security preparedness of 50 tiger reserves in the country to the GTF. Of these, 25 are being assessed by GTF teams in the first leg. Singh said the security audit has been inspired by a similar protocol developed by South Africa for its wildlife reserves. “It has over 100 points to check, including intelligence gathering, community involvement, preventive measures, quality of patrolling, quality of staff, etc,” Singh said. The team comprising three other members, Deputy Director of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Mumbai, M Maranco, World Wildlife Fund representative from Cambodia Rohit Singh and I O Bopanna, also from WWF, had started work on March 12.