Global Tiger Day: CREW talks of tigers and tiger habitat

Lalit Shastri

Central Indian Highlands

Today is Global Tiger Day, also called International Tiger Day. It is to celebrate and raise awareness about conservation and the largest cat species.

Tiger sits at the apex of the biotic pyramid. Today the magnificent tiger is threatened like never before due to the endless greed of the human beings leading to excessive biotic pressure, man-animal conflict and progressive devastation of forest cover.

After intensive research and ground level collection of information and data, CREW (Crusade for Revival of Environment and Wildlife), which is a not-for-profit organisation formed by a small group of concerned citizens in 1997 and registered under the Madhya Pradesh Society Registration Act 1973, had released two reports Vanishing Stripes in the year 1999 and Vanishing Stripes-II in 2000 to issue the firm warning that Tiger’s survival is threatened by poaching and loss of prey-base. These reports reveal the gravity of the problem and point out how gravely the tiger is threatened in one of its most fantastic habitats.

Crew marked the tiger reports by giving a call for immediate steps to save the tigers. The Big cats were already on the verge of extinction when Crew had published Vanishing Stripes in two parts in 1990 and 2000. Crew focused attention on causes threatening the survival of tigers. These include Illegal mining; unhindered grazing of cattle; reckless logging even in the Protected Areas in the name of firewood collection; man-made forest fires – many times caused by those engaged in minor forest produce collection; encroachment of forest land and its regularisation by doling out settlement rights to the encroachers by successive governments (the lid has been off on this count with the enactment of the Forest Rights Act); and the menace of poaching.

Tragically enough, ten years after these reports (Vanishing Stripes and Vanishing Stripes-II) were published by CREW, the last of the tigers had vanished from the Panna landscape. Under these glaring circumstances, the Panna Tiger Reintroduction Project was launched. It is an entirely a different story that tigers in sizeable numbers are once again roaming freely in this landscape. The credit for this goes to the dedicated team of Panna Tiger Reserve personnel who worked overtime with commitment and dedication to effect a turnaround undaunted by the grim situation on the ground.

Panna Tiger T-71, now in Bandhavgarh! (Photo source: Vijayarajan Muthu )

Ask those behind this project and they would tell how they shudder when a tiger wanders away from the Protected Area. Today the forest and wildlife experts treat it as a miracle if a tiger leaves the protected habitat and finds a mate in another Protected Area by crossing whatever is left of the forest corridor in the central Indian highlands, where the once heavily forested plateaux are now turning bald and vast patches of forest area is fast losing its canopy, the small trees, shrubs and undergrowth. With recurring forest fires, the forest surface is becoming hard as there are fewer insects and worms to burrow the soil to make the ground soft and porous to allow the rain water to seep in and get released gradually through brooks, streams and rivulets to keep the rivers perennially charged (there are also fewer birds and bees and this is leaving an adverse impact on forests and across large tracts one only sees a few standing trees and the forests are no more living forests – i.e. forests that can regenerate).

Living forest!

Come rains and what we have – a scenario where too much of water is now flowing down the slopes carrying with it lot of silt which accumulates in the river beds reducing the carrying capacity of the rivers. During the monsoon season, too much of water flows into the rivers in too short a time, thereby flooding them and for the remaining part of the year the rivers and their tributaries remain absolutely dry. We have built a system of dams which has replaced completely the river system. Since the drainage of rivers has been blocked by dams, their natural flushing is now a thing of the past and as a result the rivers have become excessively polluted.

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When the entire ecosystem is under attack, one can imagine the state of the biotic pyramid, the flora and fauna and the tiger that sits at its apex.

Today is a day for all of us to dedicate and rededicate ourselves to the cause of tigers, their habitat and the entire ecosystem. This is necessary not only for the survival of tigers but also for the survival of humankind.

Lalit Shastri, Editor-in-Chief Newsroom24x7, launched CREW in 1997 to raise awareness about various factors threatening environment, green cover and wildlife. He shot on location the documentary ‘Last of the Gharial’, produced by Assignment Earth. He has also been closely associated with the episode ‘Nature & Conservation’ with Serge De Gheldere. This forms part of CANVAS documentary ‘India for beginners’ –a Belgian production directed by award winning Director Tom Ven der Velpen. Lalit has been chosen this year (2017) to judge the Limited Series Short Form Category of the 2017 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival media competition. He was chosen in June 2016 to judge the “Best Earth & Sky” category for the Jackson Hole Science Media Awards.

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