Whither Goest our Tiger?

February 22, 2008 at 10:49 pm | Posted in Animal Census, asian elephant, bamboo, biodiversity, bioinversity, biosphere, Bos gaurus, census, deforestation, disingenuous, ecosystem, Elephant, Elephas, endangered species, extinction, ficus, forest, forest department, forest strata, Gaur, habitat, hardwood, Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary, IUCN, Leopard, Ministry of Environment and Forests, mismanaged forests, MOEF, monoculture, niche, Panthera, paw print plaster cast, phototrap, poaching, rosewood, Sariska, scats, strangler fig, teak, Tiger, tiger population, tree, tribal, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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vanishing tiger

As early as a couple of years ago (especially after the IUCN study) it was obvious that India’s forests had reached a crisis point. Our top predator, the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) was at a population nadir. The known numbers of tigers had been suddenly found to be less than half of what it should be. Even more frighteningly, in certain important tiger zones like Sariska, the tiger has completely disappeared. The extinction of our tigers stares us in the face.

Those of us who frequent the forests and who regularly participate in animal censuses have known for quite some time that the forests are deteriorating and that we have been steadily losing the battle to preserve and protect what very little is left.

Disingenuous cover-up:

The tigers were never there in the first place! The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) and their minions in “Project Tiger” now want us to believe that poor counting technique is to blame for an earlier inflated statistic. Now that proper camera traps have been placed and things are being done in a more “scientific manner”, we should all acknowledge that the tiger popultion has not actually fallen – that the population always was less than half of what we had projected…

It’s a lie because:

1) Long term forest dwellers, the tribals and the Forest Department personnel in each forest, get to know their animals very well indeed. Larger animals like the elephants and certainly both the leopards and the tigers in each of our forests are easily recognisable and identifiable as individuals.

2) The census methods used in the past, though rough and ready, are yet certainly scientific enough. When censuses are based on physical evidence such as scats and plaster casts of paw prints then there is absolutely no way that someone can claim that the populations so determined are in inferior to that of phototrapping. I would argue that in fact the phototrap is a ridiculously unscientific way to determine absolute populations when compared to the older methods!

In fact we are left to surmise that if one takes the trouble to go through the physical evidence that had been gathered over so many years of painstaking censusing, the conclusion that our tiger populations have long been declining steadily and quite drastically will have to be reached. The problem then lies with the MOEF/state Forest Departments’ perennial habit of inflating the actual counts in order to satisfy the powers that be, and in order to pacify the many and vociferous critics of the government’s many inadequacies in this regard.

In other words they have been cheating on the numbers for quite some time, and quite systematically too, and now that they have finally been caught out, the easiest recourse has been to point the finger at the supposedly faulty methodology of the past.

But why has the tiger declined and is it only the tiger that is in trouble?

A case in point in the present instance is the debate on allowing forest dwellers to continue to occupy their niches within the confines of the many forests of our land. Persuasive voices say that here is a major factor in the degredation of our prime habitats.

There are many other factors too. Take a look at the great number of private estates that sit squarely within our forest areas. They are certainly doing their bit to destroy the forests around them for one thing, with their use of fertilizers and pesticides and for another the exploitation, contamination, and pollution of the forests’ precious water resources are all having a disastrous impact. Then we have our MOEF’s penchant for suddenly granting mining and even forage/fodder licenses in our few remaining forest areas. They will then even come up with environmental clearances for these absolutely destructive projects and all in the name of ‘development’!

But these issues, though important, are not yet the worst of the culprits. The forests as a whole are under great threat due to lopsided and simplistic mismanagement over many decades. We know that our hardwood fig “strangling”trees are being poached along with our sandalwood. Trees such as the rosewood and mahogany are simply never seen within our ‘Reserve’ or National Park Forests. If we can’t protect these huge trees that are so difficult to transport out (where the take per tree is less than 200,000 rupees now for the illegal logger) , then where is the question of our being able to protect our leopards and tigers? A tiger will earn a poacher not less than a million rupees and all that it takes is a well placed wire trap or some poisoned bait – and a buyer.

In other words, if we cannot protect our trees, there’s no way that we can claim to be adequately protecting our precious tigers. Combine the loss to poaching with the ridiculously bioinverse policy of planting large tracts of monocultures of “economically important” species such as teak or bamboo – and of course these then have to be harvested – and you do indeed begin to have the recipe for the disaster that now faces us.

Once the forest’s precious tree diversity is gone, the forest itself gets degraded and becomes a poorer and poorer habitat that will soon not be able to support top predators like the tiger. Biodiversity is undermined at all levels. Other critical animal populations, notably the elephant and bison, will then have to start wandering out of the ‘protected’ zones in search of food and water, and that will lead to increasing incidences of man-animal conflicts in the forest’s surroundings.

Too Little is protected

One final point for today’s debate: The earmarked, and presently “protected”, territory is very inadequate. Tigers roam over a huge areas of range. They spread out so that they do not much have to encounter one another. I have seen two wild tigers while hiking in scrub jungle, well outside the confines of the nearest reserve forest. Clearly we need to expand the buffer zones around the core areas of our remaining tiger populations. We also have to eventually find the funding to fence the forests and forest denizens in (and the poachers out). In the meantime, if we can start by adequately expanding the buffer areas and perhaps even provide linking corridors between nearly contiguous stretches of forest, this in itself will start to make a fantastic difference!

Environmentalists and forest watchers who care and who have raised their voices of protest have been silenced by committees of armchair scientists, most of whom have never even seen a real live wild tiger to speak of. It’s up to us now, the common folks of this great land of the erstwhile Royal Bengal Tiger, to keep the issues alive and to make the careless of officialdom accountable for the precious heritage that they are allowing to be destroyed before our very eyes.


Let your voice be heard.forest strata

Make the protection of our forests a major issue of national importance.

Make a note of whom the current union and state ministers of Forests and Environment happen to be, and track their performance and the quality of their decision making very carefully. At the first sign of bad decisions, let the concerned party know that the mis-steps have been noted and will be issues to be discussed by the public (thats us!).

Publicise (write to the editor or to an investigative journalist of your local paper), document, and protest each and every incident of forest abuse that you see or find out about.

Get personally involved; participate in censuses, take up projects to help forest tribals become independent of the forests, talk to your friends about the plight of our forests and encourage one another to become activists for the sake of saving the little that still remains.

Teach your children well, for the future is in their hands…

This was first posted at Ponnvandu, and has now been slightly modified here. The issues are broad and of great importance so I’ve posted most of that article here.

Can Religion Help the Environment?

September 14, 2007 at 10:17 am | Posted in environment, God's kingdom, gospel, Jesus, kingdom ethics, mammon, poaching, semi-nomadic, timber mafia, toxic waste | 4 Comments

Chatting with a friend at Greenpeace recently I said “As with most people I don’t worry too much about the ‘ecological crisis’. After all the present situation is one that has been created by so many of our industrial and agricultural activities over the last couple of hundred years. So what difference will my little consciousness make?” He made one comment: “You claim to be a follower of Jesus, have you never thought of how God views what we are doing to His world – and you an amateur conservationist”.

In Africa and the few areas of Asia that still have some forests, native tribes practice a type of semi-nomadic lifestyle supported by hunting, gathering, and ‘slash and burn’ agriculture. They have done so for millennia. The forests were not much affected. Climate change was something that happened slowly over tens of thousands of years. Plenty of time for native species to adapt or move on.

Nowadays, many of these tribes are shifting to the slums that surround all cities. The forests have been taken over by agricultural ‘developers’ following close on the heels of the poaching and timber mafias. The few remaining forests are being decimated.

In fact, the whole world’s population is shifting to the slums of our cities. The human race has lost touch with the land that gives us life. Everywhere, businesses accumulate land and exploit the land for the maximum output at the least possible investment.

We don’t worry about the long term results on the land as long as our supermarkets are well stocked and prices remain affordable. The land has become invisible.The same could be said for many of the staples of ‘civilisation’, electrical energy, gas (petrol), building materials, steel, and so on are not areas of concern, and unless prices rise we just don’t think about it at all.

The one environmental issue that we do get a bit concerned about is pollution and that is only because we do have to feel the consequences in our landfills, in the air we breathe and in the water that we drink. The easy way out is what we always prefer and you would be surprised at how much toxic waste gets exported to the third world for disposal. That’s the stuff that’s too nasty to dump anywhere near ‘civilised’ people.

The results of our selfishness are the steady destruction of the ecological balance of the world. Down the road we will pay a heavier price as pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and global warming take hold. The GW skeptics are wrong!

That process has already started. Take the lowly mosquito; a silent and versatile vector for various nasty diseases, this tiny insect is working its way ever northward as winters get milder. The result now is a few cases of West Nile Virus attacks sporadically here and there. Unfortunately, these will be followed by Japanese Encephalitis, Dengue, Malaria, Chikungunya, Ebola, … and other little horrors for which there are no known cures.

Starting with God’s word, the creation imperatives lay out the present situation rather too well. Gen 1:28 “Multiply…subdue it and have dominion”. We have, in our fallenness, persevered pridefully to rape and pillage without a care for the condition of the very lands and the oceans that give us life.

The issue for me today is how to start obeying God’s commandments in the light of what history and science teach. But, neither history nor science are very encouraging for they leave me with a sense that our best intentions can cause more harm than good. Interventions on behalf of nature very often backfire resulting in unforeseeable bad consequences. Human interventions in anything are disaster-prone!

Today, what effect will it have if I take Jesus’s teachings on being in God’s kingdom to heart and start living as a citizen of the kingdom of God?

Some of these basic gospel teachings are:

1. To identify with the have-nots.

2. To not accumulate wealth or possessions.

3. To freely share whatever I have.

4. To be more concerned about others welfare than my own.

5. To not build up buffer stocks against whatever may happen tomorrow.

6. To consume only what is absolutely necessary for today.

7. To use all of the talents that God has given me to the best of my ability.

8. To love and accept responsibility for all mankind without discrimination while ignoring worldly and genetically determined imperatives.

9. To personally stand for justice and to support systems and laws that promote justice in its narrowest and broadest senses.

10. To pay taxes and to demand accountability from the leadership on behalf of God’s kingdom.

Jesus’s teaching of these principles automatically brought him into conflict with both the politicos and the religious. There is no ‘mammon’ to be had for anyone in God’s kingdom, it won’t even trickle down! Therefore, there is a big element of risk involved, especially if a growing proportion of Jesus’s followers start taking His kingdom teachings seriously.

The most important environmental principles are to shun exploitation, or excess, in any form. By redefining what is really necessary and differentiating it from what the market drives me to desire, I will be able to reduce consumption and automatically the environment will benefit, as will the humans of this world! So, for our environment, if I can live by the principles of the kingdom, the results will be at least neutral (we won’t make matters any worse) but more probably I will give the world of nature some breathing space and maybe help to see something of a recovery.

[Slightly modified from a comment made on OST – follow the title link – and first published in October of 2006]

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