Trouble brewing in Bandipur

Trouble brewing in Bandipur

Submitted by Editor on Sat, 2016-01-30 21:40 Mysuru: Bandipur is the envy of 41 other tiger reserves in the country, holding as many as 105 to 110 tigers in its 912 sq km territory. It is also home to more than 2000 elephants. Leopards abound the park. So do wild dogs. The prey base is diverse and substantial. The biodiversity is excellent.In all parameters it is a critical wildlife habitat, without which the future of the endangered tiger and elephant could be jeopardized. Being enmeshed in the 5400 sq km Niligiri biosphere, its contiguous corridor facilitates the movement of large mammals and carnivores between Madumalai, Nagarhole and Waynaad. As the 2014 tiger estimate reveals, these reserves are home to 570 of the 2226 tigers recorded in the country.Being one of the most vital wildlife corridors in the country, it ought to have an efficient, sound, pragmatic park manager. But the Karnataka government has posted an eccentric conservator of forest  (CF) to this reserve.In 27 years of wildlife reporting and conservation work, we haven’t come across an officer who demoralizes his staff, without whom out pristine natural resources and dwindling wildlife wouldn’t be protected.Guards and watchers at the anti-poaching camps have been traumatized. Even their weekly ration – rice, dal, onion, potato and other essentials -- have been reduced. In one instance, when a watcher dared to ask why the ration had been whittled, he was abused and reprimanded. Hurt by the field director’s rude behavior, the watcher quit his job. Others are on the verge of quitting as well.It is pertinent that the forest watchers and guards, who are effectively the eyes, nose and ears of the forest, are treated with respect. If they pack up, Bandipur’s glory, built over years, could be devastated. Conservationists fear that communities living on the periphery of the tiger reserve could take advantage of the situation and cause irreparable damage to the deciduous habitat.Given the fact that tigers are regularly predating on cattle on the periphery of forests, agitated farmers could avenge their loss by setting fire to the tiger reserve. We should remember that Bandipur lost over 2500 hectares of forest cover in March 2014 to a fire ignited by an angry farmer.It is strange that B B Mallesh, the CF in focus, does not even take calls from his range forest officers. At least six RFOs are desperate to seek a transfer as they don’t want to work under an unresponsive conservator. Mallesh hasn’t visited nine of the 12 ranges despite being in charge of the park for four months.He doesn’t even respond to assistant conservator of forests as well. In one case of elephant crop depredation, an ACF was confined to a room for eight hours by irate villagers. But Mallesh refused to bail out his sub-division officer. Jagat Ram, field director project tiger (FDPT, rushed from Mysore to rescue the ACF.In another incident when a tiger killed and partly devoured three people near the Hediyalla range, Mallesh was conspicuous by his absence. Though PCCF Ravi Ralph and CCF B P Ravi were on foot along with sharp shooters to gun down the man-eater, Mallesh sought refuge in a house. Isn’t it the responsibility of the field director to take charge of the operations in his park?Mallesh has been accused of taking unilateral decisions. Without the permission of the chief wildlife warden (CWW), he introduced elephant rides in Bandipur, much against the ruling of the Supreme Court. Though forest minister Ramnath Rai and former additional chief secretary Madan Gopal reprimanded him, Mallesh continues to do what we wishes to do.Mallesh had made it mandatory for an elephant to be part of the puja every morning at his official residence. He insisted that the mahouts feed jaggery and fruits to the camp elephants at his doorstep. It is learnt that an elephant, denied its morning offerings, ripped apart a door, resulting in the caretaker being suspended.Mallesh has a fad for taking photographs of tigers, reflected in the pictures that decorate the Bandipur tourism office and dining area at the Jungle Lodges and Resorts. Like many of his IFS comrades, he has taken to wildlife photography. Nobody can question that.But, it is about time he changes his approach and understands that he has been entrusted with the responsibility of preserving our natural habitats. His priority should be to follow the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s wildlife management guidelines and improve protection measures.  If he can’t improve the confidence of his staff and motivate them, Mallesh should be forthwith removed from this critical habitat by the very minister who insisted on posting him at Bandipur. If the district-in-charge minister doesn’t ask his ‘associate’ to mend his ways, people will be forced to take to the streets to ensure that an officer with credential and integrity is posted to this critical park.