Tigers in Rajasthan's Sariska Tiger Reserve may soon be connected with a satellite, enabling foresters to keep a constant watch on their movement. The system will be a first for India, that too, in a place where the big cats had once vanished.
The satellite system is being planned as the earlier installed radio collars, connected to a wireless system, failed to track the location of some tigers which had gone missing from the reserve in Alwar district, over 140 km from state capital Jaipur.
One of the tigers, called ST-1, which had disappeared from the forest department's radar
last year, was found dead after allegedly being poisoned by residents of a nearby village.
Currently, the reserve has two tigers and three tigresses.
"The shifting of some other tigers is being planned to accommodate a growing population of big cats at Ranthambore National Park; so we have decided to introduce a better tracking system in Sariska," a forest department officer, who did not like to be named because of official rules, told us.
The radio collars currently in use are the hi-tech Very High Frequency (VHF) tracking device strapped around the neck of the big cats.
But now the government is proposing to go in for global positioning system (GPS)-linked radio collars.
Under the new system, 10 wireless towers will be installed at the reserve. The radio collars will be connected to these towers, which will send signals to a satellite connected with a control room being set up in Sariska.
"This control room will give us constant information about tigers' movements in and around Sariska," said the officer.
He said a detailed project report has been sent to the union ministry of environment and forests. "The project is likely to cost around Rs.50 million," the officer added.
Sources said after radio collars were found to be ineffective, the department had launched a system to manually track the big cats.
"Foresters and some guards remain in the field for tracking. It is such a vast area that they too find it difficult to keep proper watch on straying tigers," said the officer.
However, wildlife experts are somewhat skeptical about the new system.
"I am of the opinion that the GPS collars are not suitable for the tigers. There have been some instances in other countries where the wild cats have tried to chew up the external antenna, following which the satellite link got snapped," Babu Lal Jaju, Rajasthan incharge of the NGO People for Animals, told us.
During 2004-05, the forest department and the state government faced all-round criticism over the disappearance of tigers from Sariska.
A report produced in March 2005 by the Wildlife Institute of India confirmed that there were no tigers left in the Sariska reserve at all. Poaching was found to be a reason for the dwindling tiger population.
Facing flak from different quarters, the state government decided to relocate tigers from Ranthambore National Park in Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan to Sariska.
The Sariska Tiger Reserve, originally a hunting preserve of the erstwhile princely state of Alwar, was declared a wildlife reserve in 1955.
In 1978, it was declared a Tiger Reserve. The total area of the park is 866 sq km. Some of the wildlife found in the reserve include leopards, jungle cats, hyenas, jackals, chital, sambars, langurs, wild boar, four-horned deer and many species of birds.