Protection of the flagship species like tiger in Mhadei wildlife sanctuary is a golden opportunity for Goa not only to conserve the big cat but also halt the spreading tentacles of destruction, say environmental activists. Carving out a tiger reserve in the eco-sensitive region will lead to focused protection of the tiger as well as the entire ecology. "This is a great opportunity for Goa to protect the region's lifeline, River Mhadei from diversion," says Bicholim-based activist, Ramesh Gawas.
Concurring with him, Sujeet Dongre, co-ordinator, centre for environmental education (CEE) said, "The status of the project tiger site will certainly enhance the level of protection even as it enjoys a certain status as a wildlife sanctuary. And the state will receive more funding for focused protection of the tiger and consequently the surrounding environment," he added. Some environmentalists are satisfied that the status of the flagship species is no longer that of a visitor to the state.
Says Clinton Vaz, co-ordinator of wild Goa, an NGO. "It is now official that they are residents of Goa," he said. Jairam Ramesh, union minister of environment and forest had referred to the resident status of the Goa tiger in his letter to chief minister Digambar Kamat. But some are aware of the Goa government's lack of seriousness in mooting a proposal for a tiger reserve. "It is very reluctant about it only because of mining interests," Gawas said. The preliminary report that the samples of tiger bones found in the Keri poaching case did not belong to the big cat was an indication of it. "Secondly, it was the Centre that had to prod the state to submit a proposal on the tiger reserve," Gawas added. Agrees Vaz, "The people have been crying hoarse for a long time that the tiger is a resident of Goa," he said. Sawant said that on-field evidence gathered by wildlife lovers suggests that Goa may have more big cats than is assumed. "Tigers have existed in Goa since time immemorial," he said.
Environmentalists believe that the next step is to work together. "Both sides (people and the forest department) are now accepting the fact that tigers are residents of Goa," says Vaz. But Siddarth Karapurkar, a Margao-based social activist said that people's protection should be woven into habitat protection. "They have lived for centuries and are better forest protectors than the forest department," he said. Activists in Bicholim and Sattari are also satisfied about Tuesday's development. "The proposal should have come much earlier, but it should not be delayed to allow further destruction," Amrut Singh of the Animal Rescue Squad said. He and various other activists said that the Swami Vivekanand Paryawaran Sanghatana, Keri, headed by Rajendra Kerkar, and the Bombay Natural History Society had contributed in creating awareness about the issue. "The government has to respond immediately as there are several benefits to the state," Gawas concluded.