‘NON-RESIDENT TIGERS’ VISHWAJIT RANE REJECTS TIGER RESERVE! By Joshua George

Non-Resident: Forest Minister Vishwajit Rane has labelled tigers in Goa as “non-resident tigers” (NRT) and this is baffling environmentalists who say tigers cannot be defined by in area because they move around in search of prey.

Footage of camera traps have repeatedly proved the presence of tigers inside the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. In the last few months locals have been reporting increased movements of tigers around the Mhadei area. The death of four tigers by poisoning which included the death a mother and her three cubs was reported from Golaulim-Sattari in January last year and this not just proved the presence of tigers, but also alerted officials of the need to step up efforts to protect the big cat in Goa…

By Joshua George

DURING the last monsoon season locals reported sightings of the big cat in and around the Mhadei forested area,” says Asst Conservator of the Goa Forests Department Paresh Porob. However, these sightings were not caught on camera traps.
Camera traps are a series of cameras that are strategically placed in areas that the tiger is most likely to roam. This pre-destined path however is not a sure shot and is purely based on luck if the tiger comes under the surveillance of these cameras. In the past few years with the installation of more cameras and increased study and survey of the area, the success rate of capturing these cats has increased.
In its 2020 report the National Tiger Conservation Authority stated that the management of the sanctuary left much to be desired and without adequate strengthening of conservation efforts, the place may become a death trap for tigers. An assessment of the Mhadei region was carried out in 1999 under the purview of Richard D’Souza (IFS), then Conservator of Forests in Goa, and Governor of Goa General Jacob when Goa was under President’s Rule.
Unfortunately, even after more than two decades of declaring the Mhadei region as a sanctuary, it has been poorly managed and these is no concrete plan in terms of its management, the NTCA reported in 2020. Now the new Minister for Forests Vishwajit Rane has rejected the demand for notifying a tiger reserve in Goa, insisting that the state does not have resident tigers. So he will not move to upgrade the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary into a full-fledged tiger reserve.
The Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary falls under the jurisdiction of Goa’s Sattari taluka spread over two constituencies, Valpoi and Poriem. These are represented by Vishwajit Rane and his wife Dr Deviya Rane. The sanctuary however is a contiguous tiger landscape merging into areas in neighbouring Karnataka which has a larger chunk of the Western Ghats. Among the tiger corridors in the Western Ghats landscape, eight have been identified, including the Sahyadri-Radhanagari-Goa corridor, which is adjacent to the Dandeli Anshi-Sharavathi Valley corridor in Karnataka.
What do the people of Valpoi think about a tiger reserve? In this matter they are in agreement with the MLA duo of Vishwajit Rane and wife that nobody wants to declare the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary as a tiger reserve! Even if forest tribal dwellers claim they have been seeing the wild cats for quite some time in the vicinity of their homes. The apprehensions are to do with their land rights which will be taken away if the area is upgraded to a tiger reserve. Dwellers will be forced to avail of a Voluntary Resettlement Scheme (VRS). All cattle and human settlements will be forced to rehabilitate in another area earmarked for them where they would be safe from tigers.
The apprehensions are not just restricted to forest dwellers but also politicians and mine owners. The tiger corridor between Netravali and Mhadei has around 17 mining leases. Eleven of them are in Netravali and seven in Mhadei — these will cease to exist if the court judgement to declare the area a tiger reserve gets passed, says Richard D’Souza (IFS).
In 2011 Vishwajit Rane moved the High Court of Bombay at Goa to challenge the 1999 government notification declaring large areas of Mhadei as a wild life sanctuary, saying this will affect the inhabitants of 28 remote villages. The then Speaker Pratap Singh Rane supported the effort to denotify the area. Richard says this was purely in their political interest to protect the mining leases in their respective constituencies. He also states that de-notification of an area has become a very difficult process unless it’s a matter of national security.
Since 1999 successive governments have been trying to denotify the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. The Supreme Court judgement of 2005 stated that not a blade of grass should be touched in a sanctuary or a national park. When it comes to the de-notification of the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, why doesn’t Goa’s Forest Minister Vishwajit Rane talk about Cotigao? Asks Richard D’Souza.
Cotigao was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1968 to protect the exposed stretch of woodland on the Goa-Karnataka border, which was home to a number of species of animal and bird life, as well as some rare, old trees. He says, “Despite the sanctuary having a number of villages in the core area no objection has been brought about by the Ranes.” This points to the fact that the forest minister only wants to play the cards safe for his own constituency.
In response to Rane’s claim that tigers in Goa are only in transit and are non-residents, Richard (IFS) said, “One tiger requires 200 sq kms of territory. A wild animal, in this case a tiger, doesn’t know whether the area is Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala or Goa. They merely roam in search of prey and food resources.”
The entire Western Ghats region spanning from Gujarat and on to the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala can claim to have 800 resident tigers. This is as per the latest survey of 2020, this is the highest so far indicated and far more than any other region in India.
Richard (IFS) remains confident that the matter which has reached the High Court shall soon be passed in favour of the demarcation of a tiger reserve. He is banking on the judicial panel having a green judge who will take into consideration the urgent requirement for a tiger reserve in Goa. It is one way of saving Goa’s wildlife, forests and water reservoirs for perpetuity which is not a bad idea at all.

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