x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Tiger poaching sparks hunger protest by wildlife campaigner

Government measures to protect tigers are confined to reserve forest areas, while the buffer and territorial forests in the state continue to be hotbeds of poaching.

CHANDRAPUR // A wildlife campaigner alarmed at the rise in tiger poaching will begin a hunger strike in Nagpur today to seek protection for the big cat in Maharashtra.

Bandu Dhotre, the 32-year-old founder and president of Eco-Pro, a wildlife protection organisation, said government measures to protect tigers are confined to reserve forest areas, while the buffer and territorial forests in the state continue to be hotbeds of poaching.

"The recent spurt in tiger poaching cases is alarming," Mr Dhotre said. "More than 100 volunteers of Eco-Pro work closely with the forest department and we feel that only the tigers in the forest reserve of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) are getting protection.

"There are many more tigers in the unprotected buffer and territorial forests and that is where the poachers get a free hand to kill them," he added.

The core area of TATR is spread over 624 sq km, while the buffer and the territorial forests have an area of 1,100 sq km.

Mr Dhotre said Maharshtra was not doing enough to conserve the tiger population and that his fast, which he will begin at the state's forest headquarters in Nagpur, aims to make the government realise its failure in saving the animal from extinction.

Dhirendra Mulkalwar, a music composer and producer associated with Eco-Pro, agrees.

"Despite announcing several protective measures in TATR, the government is treating the symptoms instead of the cause. The remedy is to treat the area around the reserve at par with the core area," he said.

According to the 2006 tiger census, there were 46 tigers in TATR, he said. "The buffer area, however, has more than 50 tigers and that is where the poaching activities are taking place," he added. "Tadoba tigers get VIP treatment while those outside live 'below poverty line'."

Although Mr Dhotre's fast is perhaps the first of its kind to protect tigers, it is not the first time that he has used this form of what is known as "Gandhigiri" to save environment. Three years ago, he ubdertook a similar fast against the allotment of coal blocks to the company Adani in Lohara, which is in the buffer area of TATR.

Eco-Pro activists will hold other hunger strikes in Chandrapur, Gondia, Bhandara, Nashik, Jalgaon and Solapur to support the tiger protest.

"We need to ensure that tigers live in a safe environment. Despite several letters and memorandums to the forest minister and other officials in the forest department, poachers continue to kill tigers," Mr Dhotre said.