Rampant illegal mining poses threat to Big Cats

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Ranthambore (Rajasthan), July 1: Rampant illegal mining in the tiger habitat of Ranthambore National Park (RNP) in Sawai Madhopur is one of the biggest reasons behind the decline in population of the Big Cats, leave alone the ecological disruption it is causing, a report in India Today has said.

This finds answers to the mystery of 12 tigers, including four cubs, which have disappeared since 2010-2011. Add to it the death of a tiger in 2012. The missing tigers from the park since 2010-2011 include T-29, T-21, and T-40. Tigresses T-17, T-27, T-31, besides two cubs each of T-11 and T-13, one cub each of T-8 and T-9 have also been found missing.

The Kundera range of the park is allegedly the most notorious region here, which also forms the most critical tiger habitat. Rampant mining take place in areas like Uliyana, Ainda, Shyampura, Basaun-Khurd and Badhlaw villages. Experts, including Rajasthan's former chief of forest and principal chief conservator of forests, R N Mehrotra emphasized that poaching of T-17 could not be ruled out.

Dhirendra Godha, an expert on RNP tigers, opined that the area needs intensive monitoring, which it lacks; hence, such illegal activities get encouraged. Moreover, if mother-tigress was not safe (T-17), it is inevitable that her three cubs that she left behind are endangered.

Another tigress T-37 disappeared from Indala region of the park around the same time. The forest department, however, seems to have turned a deaf ear to the problem; they reportedly didn't even consider it important to conduct an inquiry into the mystery of disappearing tigers.

Tiger Cubs

On December 23, a tiger carcass was discovered in the Khandar range. Strangely, the department could neither identify the animal so far, nor could it ascertain the exact reason behind its death, despite instituting two different inquiries. This shows sheer laxity on their part.

During 2010-11 four big cats - T29, T40, T21 (all males) and tigress T27 were found to have disappeared, but the matter was brushed under the carpet, without any probe or any long-term solution, despite an inquiry by the then additional principal chief conservator of forest AC Chaubey.

In his report, he maintained that two big cats could have been dead (with no carcass found), while two other could return in future if tracked properly; but the fact remains they never returned or found. Interestingly, the report was never sent to the RNP for follow up.

Giriraj Singh Kushwaha, IAS, who was the district collector of Sawai Madhopur till early this month, before he was transferred to the planning department, Jaipur, confirmed that mining activities had been going on in the tiger habitat in Uliyana, Khandar, Malarna, Ainda, Shyampura and other regions of the park.

"I had in fact seized 5 JCBs from the illegal mine operators and imposed a penalty of Rs.2 lakh for each JCB, not long ago", he said. He had also served notices on two rangers of the RNP for not patrolling their respective areas as was mandatory. However, it didn't put an end to illegal activities.

Possibility of poaching can also not be ruled out, per Kushwaha. Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Rahul Bhatnagar, though, had a different story altogether. According to him, the mining mafia was active, but it was not rampant. "Illegal mining was going on as clandestine activity and was on the decrease currently due to rains. We are alert on this front", he maintained.

The mining activities, start before sunrise and continue till 10 am on a daily basis.

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