The photo displayed by Sanctuary Asia publication in one of their tweets of a tiger peeping through the maze of dense trees and bushes in Dampa Tiger Reserve (DTR) in Mizoram state of North East India went viral few days ago. Later, various digital sites were seen asking people to guess where the tiger can be spotted in the picture, which was quite challenging. The reporter of this story sought help of field director C Lalbiaka to spot the presence of tiger in this photo for the benefit of the readers.
Lallianpuii Kawlni , a scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), told NewsClick: “WII, which is conducting a population study of ungulates in DTR, had wrapped up its seasonal work when forest guard Zakhuma Don borrowed a camera trap from us.”
According to sources, last November, pugmarks of a tiger were spotted in DTR but when camera traps were installed in the same area, it captured not a tiger’s image but that of a deer with wounds seemingly inflicted by a tiger. After that, camera traps were removed.
Don , an avid wildlife enthusiast in the DTR, installed the camera trap borrowed from the WII team in the same location in February this year and on May 16, while scanning the images, he came across the vague image of a tiger amid the foliage. WII scientists S. Sathya Kumar and Kawlni confirmed that to be the image of a tiger.
Don was inaccessible to tell his side of story. However, Lalbiaka said more camera traps would be installed in the area to keep a tab on the tiger’s movement and ensure its security.
There is no denying the fact that the lower-level employees, comprising forest guards and foresters, are the strongest pillars of safety of a forest area.
Unfortunately, all the 178 contractual forest guards who had gone on strike for pending salaries, were dismissed for lack of funds in April by the wildlife department .
Read Also: Administrative Failure at Mizoram’s Dampa Tiger Reserve
According to Lalbiaka, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) sanctioned Rs 241.84 lakh and released only Rs 161.53 lakh against DTR’s demand of Rs 442.75 lakh for its Annual Plan of Operation for 2020-2021. The authorities used Rs 124.704 lakh to pay salaries for four months out of total eight months’ pending wages to 160 of its 178 forest guards, who have been reinstated. The field director expressed hope that remaining payment of salaries to all the staff would be done when the next tranche of funds are released by NTCA.
Glossing over reasons for the disappearance of tigers in DTR over a period of time, the field director said: “As DTR is situated close to the Bangladesh border, people across the border sneak into the park at times.”
However, some experts believe that the 65-km fencing created to check infiltration has also restricted tiger movement. Besides poaching , other vital factors, such as encroachment, jhum (shifting cultivation where land is kept fallow for some time) cultivation and impact of insurgency in outside areas, are also considered responsible for discouraging felines. Oil palm and teak plantations close to the DTR are also constricting wildlife habitat.
DTR, which encompasses 545 sq km as core and 488 sq km as buffer area, was declared a tiger reserve in 1994. According to the reserve’s authorities, the presence of tigers in Dampa is usually confirmed through scat samples, due to absence of direct sighting. According to the past four All India Tiger Estimation reports, there were six tigers in DTR in 2006, five in 2010, three in 2014 and, sadly, nil in 2018.
Though there is no tiger, DTR faces no imminent threat of being divested of its prestigious tag of a tiger reserve. There are two other tiger reserves -- Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal and Palamu TR in Jharkhand -- where no sign of the striped cat was found in 2018-19. These two reserves had shown the presence of two and three tigers, respectively, in 2014.
Vaibhav C. Mathur, who served in NTCA as assistant inspector general of forest before being repatriated to his home cadre, Assam, as conservator, Kaziranga National Park, explained to NewsClick: “The areas which had had historical tiger distribution are also notified as tiger reserves to preserve biodiversity. It is not only tiger, hot biodiversity spots, too, have larger value.”
Mathur gave the example of the Kamlang Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, which was notified as the 50th tiger reserve in December 2015 for its rich floral and faunal biodiversity though it had negligible presence of tigers. Another plus point it had was its contiguity with Namdapha tiger reserve.
In order to deliberate on the possibility of tiger translocation from Kaziranga National Park to DTR on the recommendation of NTCA, the DTR officials had fixed a meeting with officials of Kaziranga in March last year, but that could not happen due to the pandemic.
Chief wildlife warden Liankima Lailung said: “The national level tiger estimation is going to be held next year. If we find any positive outcome from that report and if there is no threat to the tiger’s survival in DTR, then we will move ahead with the tiger translocation programme. Otherwise, there is no point in introducing new tigers in Dampa from outside.”
The writer is a freelance journalist.