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Let Tigers Roar

Administration would be stronger in Mhadei Sanctuary as a tiger reserve

The state forest department has decided to launch an awareness campaign among the people living inside the area of the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in order to avoid human-animal conflict. The decision comes in the wake of the criticism of the department over the recent killing of four tigers in the Golavali village of the Sattari taluka. Even though close interaction of the forest department with local inhabitants was always considered integral to wildlife conservation and protection of the rights of inhabitants, it was not pursued with deep commitment by the department officials posted out in the field. Nevertheless, it is good to tighten the screws again. The awareness drive and interactive campaign should focus on educating people on the need for presence of tigers for ecological balance and maintaining harmony between humans and wild animals. The department should also be quick in settling the claims of the families that have lost their domesticated animals to attacks by wild animals.

They could have perhaps prevented the killing of the four tigers had there been close interaction with the locals. That could have addressed their grievances. Had the claims for compensation by the families been settled earlier, they might have not resorted to the killing of the big cats. The blame for the killing of the four tigers therefore goes as much to the concerned forest officials as to the members of the two Dhangar families who have been arrested. Though more than two decades have passed since the area was declared a wildlife sanctuary the forest department has not tightened all the screws of its administration and control for the protection of tigers and other wild animals. The department, for reasons best known to it, has not even been able to fix the boundaries of the sanctuary. The lackadaisical attitude of the forest department was exposed by a team of central officials which was deputed to probe the killing of four tigers. The state government is in the habit of a knee-jerk reaction whenever an incident comes to light. The government should take a more comprehensive look and set up mechanisms in the forest department to manage the sanctuary in a satisfactory manner in all respects.

Tiger killing is not the only contravention of wildlife laws that has been recorded in the state. There have been cases of hunting wild animals, especially wild boars and sambars, and in most cases those involved have managed to escape the law. Poachers are often not proceeded against by the forest department officials. There are allegations of poachers enjoying political protection. Forest department officials must not forget that their primary commitment should be to forest and wildlife and not to political masters. The cases of usurpation of forest land by some people with the protection of politicians should be unraveled and the usurpers evicted.

There have been cases of human-animal conflicts in the past in Sattari as well as in other parts of the state. Two women were killed by a bison in the Guleli village of the Sattari taluka in 2018. There are also cases of wild animals, including elephants and wild boars destroying crops of inhabitants in the sanctuary area or adjacent to it. The residents often accuse forest department officials of being insensitive and dismissing their claims for compensation as frivolous. It is not known how many cases of damage to private property have been registered by the department and how many claims settled to the satisfaction of the people. Those who have received compensation from the department for damages have claimed that it was pittance.

Now that the issues of animal-human conflicts have come to the fore, the state authorities should take immediate steps not only to protect wildlife but to also ensure that those staying in forest areas get compensation for the losses suffered by them due to attacks by wild animals. The immediate task should be to draw the boundaries and shift inhabitants out of the sanctuary area. The government must not lose time in getting the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary declared as a tiger reserve. All dilly-dallying on the subject must end as that would make the administration and control of the area by the forest department stronger and directly accountable.

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