Thursday, July 28, 2016

Finding Jay!

“In nature, nothing happens by chance”… Aristotle

In just few words the great philosopher explains so many things about nature; recently a topic related to nature which has taken wild lifers across the country by storm made me remember this quote! It’s about a tiger named Jay which has gone missing from forest in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra! All over social media as well in field i.e. in forests, a search has been carried out, probably the biggest till now for any animal including NGO’s, forest officers, college student, villagers & even police department too! A group of wild life photographers named CLAW, on FB with nearly fifty thousand members have even announced prize of Rs 50,000, just to give some concrete information/evidence about Jay’ s existence i.e. image capture or whereabouts in any form of last seen types. Here many will wonder, what’s big deal in one tiger has gone missing? As what difference one tiger makes in a country which has nearly two thousand of them! And then every day, don’t we read every day such news about tigers or some wild animals getting killed for hundreds of reasons which includes right from poaching to road accident to fights over territory & what not! So one more tiger has gone missing & his name is Jay, that’s all!

Well, I don’t blame all those ignorant souls as most of them are from cities or towns who have already enough of day to day problems in their own survival, so you can’t expect them to add one more worry by caring for a missing tiger that too is some distant forest! Yet for those who are wondering what’s so much of fuss & who is this Jay, I will throw some light on the back ground. Those of us who goes regularly to National Parks or call it Project Tigers which are reserved forests of our country such as Kanha Tiger Park or Tadoba Andhari Tiger Park or Ranthambore or Corbet to name a few & mostly in news for various reasons. At the same time there are many small Project Tiger Parks also, these are lesser known yet popular amongst wild lifers. Project Tiger is concept launched way back in 1972 to protect & conserve tiger population in our country indirectly conserving forests around the tigers. Its reserved part of forests, spread across the country by virtue of which forest department gets many rights to conserve wild life especially keeping tiger at apex & thus govt can ensure conservation of tigers along with other species in these forests. This has been very useful as started with hardly twelve Project Tiger Parks, now there are nearly some fifty plus such sanctuaries or parks under Project Tiger. For these forests apart from just giving legal powers to concerned forest dept’s, lots of funding also being made available to local govts so as they can use that money for tiger conservation under Project Tiger tag. When I use the term tiger conservation it’s not just tiger in isolation but entire habitat i.e. surrounding in which the tiger survives. It includes forest with flora & fauna as well we need to take care of native people, call them tribes or villagers which resides around the forests in which the tiger lives. As sitting here in Pune in my tenth floor home & say, “I love Tiger” is easy but to live in a mud & thatch hut, near forest where tiger roams freely day & night, then saying “I love Tiger”, not many can do it! So to avoid man animal conflicts, in which defeat of the animals is obvious, is also main job of the forest dept which controls these tiger parks!

I presume now you know what Tiger Parks are & role of forest dept in tiger conservation; of late wild life tourism is new fashion in tourism & with due respect I am using word fashion as going in all above tiger parks with fancy cameras & upload the tiger images on social media is the in thing. With digital cameras no more photography is as tedious job as it was with film role cameras & a lot cheaper too. Though going to safaris of tiger parks is costly affair but now our country has lots of new rich young men which can afford it. Yes there are many going to forests for years & sincerely, as well doing a lot for conservation of wild life along with photography is also true. And this wild life tourism generates lots of revenues for the tiger parks which is being utilized for well being of the forests is also equally important aspect so more & more people should go to forests is what tourism as well forest dept’s thrust all over country’s States. And what better than a tiger as brand ambassador than anybody else, to attract wild lifers as well tourists to the tiger parks! So most parks has an iconic tiger which is like star attraction of that forest, those who are regular visitors of tiger parks must be knowing that Kanha Park has got a tiger named “Munna”, which has lettering  “CAT’ on his forehead in form of black stripes naturally developed. Tadoba has “Baghdoh” named tiger & Ranthambore has “Sultan” which was recently captivated for attacking humans & that too has raised a lot of debate on social media as well mixed reactions. The Corbet has a tigress named “Sharmili” & Pench Tiger Park has legendary tigress named “Collerwali”, she has given birth to nearly eleven cubs in last few years, a great contribution to the park. Badhavgarh Tiger Park was having “B2” & “Charger’, two very big Tigers & Nagzira has got “Dendu” named tiger. Mostly these tiger’s names are given by guides in the forest & named after some person resembling his habits or local name of a spot where that particular tiger roams frequently! Name like “Collerwali” has been given as the tigress is radio collared. In same way the relatively new tiger park in Maharashtra near Nagpur i.e. Umread Kharandla has got a huge tiger male named “Jay” as its star attraction. 

All these above referred tigers got popularity for two reasons amongst the tourists, one is because of their sheer size like Jay & another is somehow they have got used to the tourists & often seen easily making tourists happy for photography; as most tourists visits tiger park to have one glimpse of a tiger & when some particular tiger is seen regularly & easily, then its natural, the said park gets recognition in name of that Tiger! So was the tiger “Jay” for Umread Khrandla wild life sanctuary nicknamed as “USWS”, a huge face with beard & physic supporting to that face & fearless to the visitors cameras, obviously he became the wild lifers delight soon & every social media has image of Jay posted by thousands of visitors of USWS!
But some five months back reports started filtering in, that Jay isn’t being seen at USWS, though for first few weeks everybody thought its normal as male tigers has very big territory i.e. the area of the forest within which they roam. Usually a male tiger has nearly 50sq km to 100sq km area in which he can move for hunting & many a times male tiger can walk 30 km in a day so nothing uncommon if a tiger isn’t getting sighted for a while. Also if it’s behind some tigress for mating then also the tiger prefers privacy, so absence of Jay wasn’t uncommon. But slowly as the days passed & still there was no sighting of Jay, tourists especially the regular ones started getting concerned as Jay was a familiar sight & no one has seen it now for nearly four months which is alarming sign. 

Even forest dept started feeling the heat of inquiries about Jay & social media was full of debate as what has happened to Jay. Many theories are floating as tigers are known to roam from one sanctuary to another especially in Vidarbha region where still some corridors are left. Corridor is a path or patch of land connecting two forests, which wild animals use to travel or migrate from one forest to another. It’s usually non habituated or less used by humans, so the wild animals feel safe to travel through these patches. With increasing urbanization many such corridors have been lost already; because some fifty or sixty years back mostly all parts of India’s forest have been connected via such corridors & animals could travel to long distance making their survival easier. In recent past a tigress from Kanha has travelled nearly 150km & has been found in Pench Tiger Park, so one theory was Jay has travelled to Pench or Tadoba or some nearby parks area. But the forest staff or the locals at these places denies seeing any such big new tiger in their area. Also a tiger of size like Jay isn’t a sight someone will miss as while travelling to such long distance someone is bound to have a sight of his & would have reported is common logic.

On the top of it Jay was radio collared twice; that means forest dept uses a radio collar for special tigers or tigress with cubs so they can monitor its moment or location by radio signals. And in Jays case even the radio collars has been failed & “push the blame” game is on between forest dept & the institute which supervises the work of radio collaring. The said institute even said that the radio collars fails if the animal moves around High tension overhead electric lines, which are a common thing in that area courtesy thermal power plants! Though that’s not being accepted by technical people in the field as if it is so then why other tigers have never came across such fault is the question being asked! One more theory is of poaching but then killing of such tiger isn’t a easy job as well poaching involves participation of locals in most cases, as they only knows the moment zone of a particular tiger & that means involving number of persons & some where someone would have spoken about it. Another theory is natural death, though Jay was too young to die naturally but it can be snake bite or fight with other tiger. Again with the radio collar or without it, the body would have been come to notice in case of such death as forest dept’s personnel are searching every corner of the forest, though it’s a mammoth task!  And a tiger migrates from his forest only if there is shortage of prey or water which wasn’t the case with Jay. 

One more reason for migration of a tiger is too much of interference by villagers making tiger disturbed by their moments, may it be by domestic animals or by their entry in tigers habitats for any reason such as illegal tree cutting! So after failing of every theory about Jay, right from poaching to migration & with no sign of Jay, a serious search has been undertaken for forest dept including with support of NGO’s, probably the biggest till now for any missing wild life animal!

I remember few years back there was a wonderful Disney movie “Finding Nemo’, it was a journey by a father fish all across Pacific Ocean to find his lost son. It was an animation movie but then that’s why it’s possible to find a tiny fish in an ocean, when it come to find a tiger in thousands of sq kms of forest we realize limitations of our technology. Though the Jay missing has definitely shown light to lacuna's of the system which we may call forest dept or govt as why can’t there be network of paid insiders which in police language known as  “khabris”, who will work for forest dept & keep an eye about every outsiders moment in & around tiger parks? Forest dept alone with its limited staff & technology cant keep an eye on entire forest leave apart some tiger, so there has to be a separate cell for vigilance & high time for govt to look in strengthening forest dept if we really care for tigers! Another is air surveillance's & drone cameras to monitor wild life, this may seem far-fetched thought but if we have left with just 2000 odd tigers then they are worth for every expense, is what we should accept. Also we can think of injecting micro chip in animals like tigers to keep track on them, I am no expert on this aspect of electronics but Bond movies does tells us about such gadgets, so why can’t we try them here? At the same time open up entire forest for wild life tourism as wild lifers are like eyes & ears of the forest dept & because of them only the Jay’s absence has been noticed & made the system move to search for him! Due to some Supreme Court judgment only 20% part of tiger parks has been kept open for tourists & that’s why missing wild animals is being let away unnoticed. Can Hon PM, who heads Tiger Protection Cell look in to it & can he move the matter again in Supreme Court, so as it will be a step taken for tiger conservation only? Tourism can be a disturbance to wild life but if properly monitored then keeping numbers of vehicles controlled & with proper man power we can open up entire forests for tourists, as after all it’s us who have divided forest in to zones like core, buffer & tourism; but the tiger looks at it as one forest only!

Lastly today its one Jay which has gone missing & reason may be any but it’s a big loss to wild life, if it happens to be unnatural death! Last year saw deaths of nearly 50 tigers all across the country for various reasons & in most cases human encroachment or conflict was the main cause. On one side we are happy for tiger population increasing & on other side if we can’t control deaths then soon we will be back to square one on front of tiger conservation. As the great thinker has said in the quote, Jay gone missing is not by chance; it’s a warning to us, provided we understand the warning because today its Jay, tomorrow it will be Baghdoh or Collarwali & then entire tiger clan will be vanished from the forests; so before it’s too late, lets gear-up & form a system in place where no Jay will go missing but will grow happily old in his own forest, as that’s what nature is meant for!

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

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