After tigers, officials missing in Sariska
Jaipur, Tuesday 23rd August 2011


First, it was vanishing tigers. Now Sariska National Park is grappling with the problem of vanishing officials.

After the zero-tiger-count scandal of 2004-05, big cats have been roaring again at Sariska with six being relocated in 2008. But one has died and the rest haven’t been breeding.

Wildlife observers partly blame the vacant posts at the park at every level, and the repeated change of the top official: the district forest officer (DFO).

Sources say nobody wants to be in charge at Sariska because of the big responsibility and the possibility of more tiger deaths causing another scandal. So, as soon as a new DFO is appointed, the official starts pulling strings for a transfer.

Each DFO has got out of Sariska within two or three months since November 2010 when one of the relocated tigresses, ST1, died. The last, Sharda Pratap Singh, was shifted to the chief minister’s office after just a month.

P.S. Somshekhar, Rajasthan’s chief conservator of forests (CCF), claimed the state wildlife department faced a shortage of senior officials who could be appointed DFO.

But he conceded: “As soon as one moves up the seniority level, they are posted in Jaipur and cannot take up field jobs or are reluctant to take them.”

Former Sariska DFO Sunayan Sharma was more forthright: “They know they will be here for a little while and would rather not do anything than take steps that may backfire. Besides, the protection of the park and the animals is a major issue and nobody wants to take up the big responsibility.”

It isn’t just the DFOs. Three of the six posts of assistant conservator of forest (ACF) are vacant; so are five of the seven posts for rangers who monitor, protect and develop the ranges, each of which is about 250sqkm at Sariska.

At least four posts of foresters — the frontline staff in the park’s protection — are vacant. The required number of forest guards is 103 but there are only 97. Till recently, the number was just 57.

ACF Ghanshyam Sharma was in charge of Sariska for two weeks till the new DFO, P. Kathirwal, took charge a few days ago. Kathirwal, however, has been away in Tamil Nadu since taking over.

Wildlife observers say that if the state was serious about getting Sariska back on track, it would have ensured at least the DFO’s post didn’t stay vacant. A long-term DFO could have made sure there was constant monitoring of the tigers.

The 881sqkm park, about 110km from Jaipur, is surrounded by 26 villages and therefore needs constant monitoring to check poaching and human interference.

Breeding puzzle

The lack of breeding among the five relocated tigers remains a mystery. The animals’ stool samples were sent in May to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, but it has been unable to establish if hormonal imbalance is the cause.

The Hyderabad centre wants a series of stool samples with 10-day gaps, which has not been possible to collect during the monsoon months.

Wildlife experts say the tigers relocated from Ranthambhore are weak, whereas healthy tigers that were already breeding should have been selected. But Ranthambhore’s strong tourism lobby prevented this lest the tourists headed to Sariska instead.

The government seems to have thrown up its hands.

CCF Somshekhar said the authorities were “in no hurry” to relocate more tigers to Sariska. “Sariska is an experiment for us. We are trying our best but one cannot control nature,” he said.

“We too want good news from the park but so far there has been nothing major to rejoice over. The tigers have been mating but unfortunately they have not conceived. It happens with humans too.”