INDIA is conducting the world’s largest wildlife census in terms of coverage, intensity of sampling and quantum to estimate wildlife population. The state forest department appears to have adopted a lethargic approach to contributing to the national effort in the final stage. It has not yet submitted the memory cards holding photo evidence of the presence of wild animals including tigers and the scat samples collected during the wildlife census to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for its validation. The department was supposed to send them within 10 days of the end of the survey, but for some strange reasons they are lying in the office of the wildlife warden who is also the principal chief conservator of forests. The officials of the neighbouring states of Maharashtra and Karnataka have done their job, but those of our state are still sleeping over it, though Goa is one of the 18 states where tiger presence has been found. This is for the first time that the state has been found lagging behind in helping the central authorities in their endeavour for tiger estimation. In the previous three similar exercises in 2006, 2010 and 2014, the state forest authorities were quick in sending the physical data collected as well as technical aspects involved in the process.
The All-India Tiger Estimation 2018 exercise is supposed to be more accurate as high technology is being used. According to the protocol set by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), all the reports including photos recorded using camera trap and scat samples need to be sent to the WII within stipulated time. The Goa officials have not sent any even though a fortnight has passed since the census was completed. What is the reason behind holding back the crucial evidence? The top forest officials owe an answer to the public. The timely dispatch of the gathered evidence would help the national authorities to arrive at a conclusion on the presence of tigers in the state and their numbers. Wildlife lovers have for long been demanding that the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, where tiger presence has been found in the past survey, be declared as a tiger reserve. The latest data, which could give an exact tiger estimation, would help in taking the demand forward. As tigers are an endangered species the declaration of a tiger reserve could go a long way for their preservation.
Forest officials and volunteers engaged in the wildlife census have collected around 28 samples of scats (droppings) of big cats from different beats of Mhadei, Mollem and Netravali protected forest areas. For the first time that evidence of presence of big cat was found in Mollem. The state forest officials are upbeat following the successful gathering of data collected in the survey that ended on May 31 and expect the number of tigers found in Goa to cross the previous figure of five. The officials feel that with increased camera trap density and use of android technology, estimates were likely to be more robust in terms of precision. The census has revealed presence of at least 12 tigers in the areas of Maharashtra and Karnataka close to the Goa border. Tiger populations are viable within protected areas but under threat outside them. Availability of authentic data about presence of tigers in the state would help the authorities declare a sanctuary or designate certain area as protected area. The top forest officials would be failing the people of Goa if they fail to send the data from the census without further delay.
For long the officials, wildlife enthusiasts and people have been debating over the presence of tigers in the state. A big cat was killed in the past in the Keri village of Sattari taluka. Locals in the Sattari taluka have sighted big cat on more than one occasion. It would be wrong to live in denial of the presence of tigers in the state forests. The top forest officials need to play a proactive role to help the central authorities in arriving at a decision as early as possible. As the Tiger Task Force has found that a major lacuna in tiger conservation was the absence of a credible, scientific national monitoring protocol, the state forest department should not lose the great opportunity to provide the clinching data from the wildlife census to set the ball rolling for the creation of a tiger reserve or protected area in Goa.