Ranthambhore – Sariska and tiger shuttle – Part I

About an hour ago I checked my mail and got a shock. There was this comment on my last post (Shooting with Andy Rouse) from Anubhav, who I presume is a person of Indian origin living in the USA. It goes something like this (for those who are too lazy to read the entire comment).

Hello Aditya,
Nice to know about your nature photography 101. Reading your blog for the past 1 year. I have come to expect a lot of the serious stuff plaguing the park like what were your observations on Sariska translocation? How is the dam doing? Did you find takers for cash pooling? Are the poaching tribes still on the fringes?
May I politely suggest that please keep your post like you kept them earlier i.e. mainstream pressing issues get the lime light……..Keep justifying your name– THE SUN– and give life to Ranthambhore.

I began replying to him ………………………………

Dear Anubhav,
I though there was just an overkill of “serious” tiger news in the media and on the net for the last few months. :)…………..Almost everyone in India has overnight become an expert…… and is working to save the tigers. Just got bored of serious stuff and taking a break from it. That is one of the reasons I have not been posting much for the last 4 months or so.

There were two thoughts going through my head. One, I did not know that people actually “read” my blog. And two, I did not know that people take me seriously (my wife does not). And then I decided to blog it. Seriously.

Tigress with young cubs in ranthambore

Tigress with young cubs in ranthambore

Sariska Tiger Reserve was one of the original “nine” wildlife sanctuaries that were taken up under the Project Tiger in 1973. It was an excellent tiger habitat (still is) but due to poor protection the number of tigers there started dwindling in the middle 1990s. Somewhere in the later half of 2004, tiger disappeared from Sariska, shot dead by commercial poachers. Most of us (including the Project Tiger directorate in Delhi) came to know about it, when a friend of mine – Jay Mazumdar – wrote about it in a national daily newspaper called the Indian Express. I have an earlier post about it.

Soon after that there was a big media outcry about tigers. For almost a year before “Sariska Zero” became news there were reports of tiger crisis coming from almost all over India and Corbett tiger reserve was probably the only Project Tiger Reserve that stayed crisis free. Suddenly everyone became with access to media became tiger experts and lot of wildlife conservationists woke up from their sleep. And all this happened over night. There was no crisis till the day before Indian Express exposed Sariska zero. What followed became wildlife history in India. We heard stuff like “Rajasthan does not deserve tigers”, “hang the managers of these reserves” etc. But nothing changed at the ground level (I mean at the various Project Tiger Reserve level).

Tigress shifted to Sariska

Tigress shifted to Sariska

Of course no such hanging took place. A few Forest guards in Sariska were suspended, a few committees and Task Forces were formed and they published their reports. The Government of India and Rajasthan ended up with egg on their face and Project Tiger got really bad press publicity. A lot of “tiger lovers” and “wildlife conservationists” – both professional and amateur – got all excited and tried to get their “15 seconds of fame” and some got much more than that. Everyone declared Sariska a “basket case.”

Does Rajasthan deserve its tigers? Tough question to answer. I think India does not deserve its tigers. But we have to remember that tiger are not just our national heritage, they are our planet’s heritage. And I don’t think we, Indians, deserve to be the guardian of this global treasure. Why? Because despite such a big outcry nothing really happened. We were very happy shouting and cursing the Forest Department but we just plain refused to really correct the situation. A few very superficial measures were undertaken and we were happy. The conservationists declared that the crisis was over and “good news” started pouring from all over. We started hearing things like “massive budgetary outlay for tiger protection from now on, army commandos deployed in tiger reserves, tiger reserves have been sealed and declared inviolate” and so on. No such thing happened at the ground level. The budgets did go up – from pathetically low to very low, army commandos were actually retired army personnel who had no understanding of wildlife, Wildlife issues rose from lowest priority for the government to very low priority. Basically nothing changed at the ground level.

There was some genuine good news. Ranthambhore, which had almost got decimated, revived but that was mainly because a few officers and officials worked their heart out. Corbett was another good news – again thanks to a handful of officers and officials. There was no change in the outlook of the Government of India, except for some very slick media management. And most of the media lapped it up. There were a few sane voices in the media – journalists like Bittu Sehgal – the editor of Sanctuary magazine, Jay Mazoomdaar, Prerna Singh Bindra and a few more but their voices were partially drowned out in the din.

About a year ago the Rajasthan Forest Department declared that they would relocate tigers from Ranthambhore to Sariska to right the wrong……….