There was a lot of debate going on about the relocation of tigers to Sariska. Skeptics pointed out that the problems that Sariska faces needed to be sorted out before any relocation was carried out. The relocation has since taken place and the initial results have been good. In fact now more relocations are being planned not only in Sariska but also in Panna.
The point made by the skeptics may have sounded sensible enough on paper however we need to take a closer look at these problems and see if they are unique to Sariska.
The problems enumerated were the presence of human habitation (11 villages) inside the park, a highway running through the park and the presence of a temple within the park that attracts a large number of devotees.
For anybody who is familiar with India’s protected areas this will come as no surprise. Almost all of our protected areas have similar problems. Lets us take the case of Ranthambhore , a popular and successful park in Rajasthan. There are almost fifty villages within the reserve, a highway runs through it and the temples in the reserve attract the same if not more number of pilgrims than the one in Sariska. So if tigers are able to breed and survive well there there is no reason that they cannot survive in Sariska now.
Sariska lost its Tigers to organized poaching gangs. That is the problem that needs to be fixed. The govt. has indeed revamped and strengthened the policing around and inside the park. The tigers are also going to be monitored with the help of radio collars that can be tracked by satellite.
Sariska is also definitely the finest tropical dry-deciduous tiger habitat in India. It is about 850 square km in size and almost half of this is excellent tiger habitat. There is more land area that can be classified as tiger habitat in Sariska than in Ranthambhore. Due to the absence of predation over the past few years the park has an excellent prey base. In my opinion the conditions favoured the success of the relocation programme.
Another very compelling reason for the relocation programme is the fact that relocation is going to play a major role in the survival of the tiger. Most of our protected areas are islands surrounded by a sea of humanity; there is no or very little connectivity between them. There are also very few chances of expanding these areas due to the lack of forest cover in the adjoining area.
Let me ask you a question. Let us assume that we are successful in tiger conservation. What next? What do you do after you succeed? Well success brings its own problems – the problems of plenty!
It is pretty obvious that after a few years we will be successful in certain parks, not so successful in some and total failures in others. (Sariska is not the only Tiger Reserve to have lost its tigers there is Palmau and Buxa also). In the places where we are successful we will have a problem of tigers moving out of the park and coming in conflict with humans also loss of genetic variety due to inbreeding .Isolated populations like these will also be prone to disease. What then will be the management plan for these reserves? Culling? Controlled hunting by people who are willing to pay a huge price for the pleasure? Or are we going to rely on poaching to keep the numbers down to manageable levels?
In this scenario relocation of excess tigers from one park to other suitable tiger habitats with low densities will be the answer. It is for this reason that the tiger relocation to Sariska needs to succeed.
This is not the first tiger relocation that has been done in India. Given below is an article describing the first tiger relocation.
‘There were no choppers then; it would be another six years before the Germans would build the Focke-Wulf Fw 61, the world's first practical helicopter. Radio collars then were beyond the realm of even sci-fi. And it would be another 20 years or so before New Zealander Colin Murdoch would invent the tranquilizer gun. This was 1930. Not many then frowned upon big-game hunting, or even realized that tigers would eventually become an endangered species.
But even then, tigers were vanishing from some forests. As the then ruler of Dungarpur - Maharawal Lakshman Singh (his son was the famous cricketer, Raj Singh Dungarpur) - realized in 1928. He became the ruler of this small principality in 1918, when he was still a minor, and then went to Mayo College, Ajmer, to finish his studies. When he returned, in 1928, he found that not a single tiger was to be found in the dense forests of his principality. All of them, it turned out, had fallen prey to shikar .
The Maharawal was furious. As he had been a minor, the principality was being run by a British political agent, Donald Field. He had a fondness for shikar , and it seemed that he and his friends had managed to wipe out the Dungarpur tiger population. Furious, the Maharawal shot off a letter to Delhi demanding an explanation. What followed would make the tiger relocation from Ranthambore to Sariska look like child's play.
The Britishers saw the Maharawal's point, and was willing to humour him. They suggested that two tigers be relocated from the jungles of Gwalior to Dungarpur.
A dealer, who was supplying tigers to various zoos, was given the job of getting the big cats for the Maharawal. And so it happened that the world's first tiger relocation project was set in motion. (Sariska, incidentally, is the second one.) Two tigers - a male and a female - were caught, caged, and put on a train to Talod in Gujarat. But Talod was still some 80 km away from Dungarpur. It seems a miracle the tigers survived the 80-km journey, mostly on bullock carts, and for some stretches, where there were roads, on trucks.
Once the tigers reached the jungle, the Maharawal banned poaching. He even stopped his two brothers from going game-hunting in the forests. The tiger population steadily increased in the forests. At the time of Independence, 25 tigers were reported in the forests of Dungarpur.
"The late Maharawal remained a crusader throughout.... His last great appearance for conservation was at the international symposium on bustards in 1980 in Jaipur," said Harsh Vardhan, secretary general of Tourism and Wildlife Society of India.
But the Maharawal also killed a tiger. In fact, it was one of the two he got from Gwalior. It was a mercy killing, though. The tiger had lost its teeth, its movement was slow, and the Maharawal was afraid it would become a man-eater. So, one day, he went out with his gun, and shot Bokha (the toothless one), as the tiger was then being called. It has been stuffed and preserved at the Udai Vilas hotel in Udaipur.
And as for the Dungarpur forests, they are empty again. Poachers made sure of that. ‘
It may not be easy but that does not mean that it should not be done. The Dungarpur story tells us that when there is a will there is a way.We need to learn our lessons fast and not repeat our mistakes because very soon this may turn out to be the best way to repopulate tiger habitats, preserve genetic variety and prevent overcrowding.