Herald: The tiger has left its mark in Mhadei

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The tiger has left its mark in Mhadei

15 Apr 2017 12:04am IST

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15 Apr 2017 12:04am IST

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The reasons not to declare the Mhadei Wild life Sanctuary as a tiger reserve are diminishing quickly, with increasing evidence of tiger presence. SHWETA KAMAT reports

The recent spotting of five tigers -- one male, two females and two cubs-in the State’s richest wild, the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS), is not something very new. The protected area is habitat for wildcat is a well established fact for more than one and half decade now. But unfortunately, the successive State governments are still looking for more and more authentic evidences to declare this core area as ‘Tiger Reserve’ and the reason for such delay is best known to them only. 

The Mhadei WLS, that spans just 208 sq kms in the Western Ghats --- declared as the protected area in 1999 -- is contiguous to the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary and Anshi Dandeli Tiger Reserve in the State of Karnataka. The contiguous forests of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra and the reserve forests and wildlife sanctuary of Radhanagari in Karnataka, Chandoli national park and the reserve forests of Purna and Dodamarg in Maharashtra have been named as Tiger Conservation Units (TCU) (minimum habitat area o should support 50 tigers or have documented evidence of 50 tigers).

And hence, the Goa Forest Department often claims that the tiger spotted here are transited. 

The tiger presence in Goa was first felt in 2002 when the animal census conducted by the State Forest department authenticated the wild cat presence in Mhadei area. This was followed by 2006 and 2010 census that also recorded tiger presence in that area. Though, forest department failed to get the result of 2006 census, the 2010 census had stunned upon presence of five tigers in Goa’s wild, with increase number of leopards and wild dogs.

In 2009, few locals working in an eco-tourism resort at Chorla Ghat sighted a tiger in the region. But the confirmation of the presence of a male tiger came to light after villagers from Chorla and surrounding areas reported sightings and viewed pugmarks in several locations in the Ghats. All of sudden, a fear was developed amongst the locals residing in the areas. 

In 2010 the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) described the Goa stretch of the Western Ghats as an important tiger corridor between Anshi-Dandeli tiger reserves and the Sahyadris and confirmed occupancy of tigers in the State’s forest.

Further, the Forest Department officials recorded tiger pug marks in Mhadei area again in 2011 during the Wildlife Census conducted with the help of Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII). 

As the forest department adopted the modern technology of camera tap method to authenticate the presence of tiger in the State wild, in April 2013, a tigress was spotted in areas of Mhadei WLS of Dongurli panchayat, another tigress and tiger were spotted in January and March in 2014 at Ivre and Zhadane forest area of Mhadei. 

“The Mhadei region lies along the Vagheri hills which means ‘abode of tiger’. The locals residing in this area along the Western Ghats region are very much aware about the presence of tiger in the wild. Even the local forest officials here are well versed with this fact. But despite all this, no steps are taken for preservation and conservation of tigers in the State,” renowned environmentalist and member of National Wildlife Board (NWB) Rajendra Kerakar explains expressing complete displeasure over government’s ‘ignorant’ act. 

“The State’s reluctance to admit the fact that Goa’s protected areas are tiger habitat is basically to grant protection to the iron ore mining players. Large chunk of forest and protected areas are diverted for mining,” Kerkar charged informing that with declaration of all protected areas as tiger reserve will have impact on as many as 12 renewed leases, which are yet to be granted environmental clearance by the MoEF.”

Environmentalists have for long been pushing for Mhadei to be declared a tiger reserve and even the Centre has shown interest in declaring Mhadei MLS a tiger reserve. In 2011, the then Union minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, had written to the then Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat urging the State to consider proposing the Mhadei WLS as a tiger reserve. That suggestion from the Union minister had not been acted upon and in 2014 there had been another request from the Centre for a proposal. The government had again preferred to keep silent on the proposals and ignore them claiming that it will conduct a fresh estimate of tiger in the State before considering it to declare as tiger habitat.

MoEF had noted that the protected areas of Goa and their contiguous forests in Karnataka and Maharashtra are possibly some of the best tiger habitats in the Western Ghats and are in need of protection. As such, the local forest officers have once again now spotted five tigers in the Mhadei region, giving enough evidence that the core area is rich tiger habitat.

“Mhadei is the catchment area of important rivers like Mhadei, Malaprabha, Pandhari, Bailnadi, Tillari, and making it a tiger reserve will help consolidate the habitat and address the water security issues of Goa for posterity. It will also boost and strengthen State case for Mhadei river water diversion before the Tribunal. The declaration of the core area as tiger reserve, will automatically give the River Mhadei more protection,” green activist Ramesh Gawas said. 

Recently, the former State Advocate General and current Additional Solicitor General of India Atmaram Nadkarni has tweeted in support of declaring Mhadei as tiger reserve. “Presence of five tigers in the Mhadei WLS is a big moment for Goa Western Ghats...needs to be protected at any cost,” he tweeted. Nadkarni is representing Goa before the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal (MWDT) and his thrust has been on environment, ecology and wildlife protection in that area. 

The wildlife lover Parag Rangnekar is of the view that it is not just Mhadei WLS but other protected areas, which also needs to be monitored for tiger presence. “I am sure that the number will be much more than what we are predicting now,” he said. 

In August 2011, there was public announcement that "in principle" approval was accorded by the NTCA for creation of new tiger reserve at Mhadei WLS. Under section 38V of the Wildlife Protection Act on 1972, the State Government was authorised to notify the WLS as tiger reserve. The proposal was even supported by the local community who believed that the same would help in long-term protection of bio-diversity rich areas. However, nothing actually worked out in that direction. 

But in 2016, the then Laxmikant Parsekar led Government took a first positive step. The State Wildlife Board headed by him accorded its approval to the proposal to declare all the protected areas as Tiger Reserves and to grant necessary support to the human settlement residing in those areas. The proposal was supposed to be forwarded to the NTCA and NWB for final approval. But one year down the line, the proposal continues to be mere document

When contacted the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest Ajay Saxena, refused to comment stating “why should media be made aware about what we intend to do”. 

The above fact gives enough evidence for the State to go for declaring the Mhadei WLS as tiger reserve -- a move that will give major boost towards conservation of this wild cat -- whose population is on decline across the country. 

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