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Dolphins whistle loud in Orissa when roaring Tigers do vanish

"When Orissa government was worried about the roaring sound of tigers fading out, it was to a great relief that the whistling sound of dolphins blew louder in Chilka Lake – the largest brackish water lagoon of Asia."

Basudev Mahapatra : March 11, 2008

The land of Khairi (the female tiger that made Simlipal famous as a prominent tiger habitat of India) has become an unsafe place for endangered big cats as the latest Tiger Census Report published by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) brought to public the sensational fact of cat population gone down drastically during past 5 years.

As per revelations made in the report, tiger population in India has fallen to 1,411, down from 3,642 in the last major survey in 2002. Wildlife activists see poaching, large-scale deforestation for industrialization and uncontrolled urbanization and government agencies’ callous attitude towards wildlife conservation as the main factors for the decline in the big cat population of the country.

While conservationists believe that the official figure of 3,500 tigers in India's reserves is surely an exaggeration, some agencies and states are critical to the methodology followed by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for Tiger Census. As per the report titled `Status of the Tigers, Co-predators, and Prey in India ' (2008), Orissa has less than 60 tigers and of them the Simplipal National Park, one of the widely known project tiger reserves in the country, inhabits only 30.

Reacting to the report and revelation made in it, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who also holds Forest and wildlife ministry under him, said the state has more tigers than what was projected by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). Claiming that the Similipal National Park alone has over 100 tigers, Pattnaik said, ‘tigers are also present in other places of the state. The methods adopted to count the tiger were not accurate’.

In terms of tiger population, as it seems, Naveen Pattnaik relies on the revelations made in the publication brought out by its Forest Department in October 2007 titled `Wildlands of Orissa’ wherein, Orissa government had claimed that there were a total of 192 tigers in the State in January 2004 comprising 57 males, 75 females and 60 cubs.

However, explaining that these figures are exaggerated, member of National Board for Wildlife said that the Orissa chief minister had not the accurate figures as state forest officers were misleading him. NBW member Biswajit Mahanty said that CM of Orissa should rather take actions against them (the officials) for covering the truth regarding huge loss of tigers in the state. To justify the genuinity of the methodology Mohanty described the method adopted by the central census has been accepted worldwide and is the latest technology to estimate the numbers of tigers.

Expressing disagreement over the tiger population figures revealed by NTCA report and explaining that the cameras used to capture tigers in the forests were not placed to cover all the tiger habitats, Orissa government has decided to go for a fresh census in Simlipal from December this year. In a letter, Orissa government has requested the center to depute two expert representatives to be present during the census.

>>> Scroll down to read rest of the Story


When Orissa government was worried about the roaring sound of tigers fading out, it was to a great relief that the whistling sound of dolphins blew louder in Chilka Lake – the largest brackish water lagoon of Asia. As per the recent announcement made by Chilka Development Authorities (CDA), Chilka Lake houses maximum number of Irrawaddy dolphins than any other lagoon of the world. While total population of this highly endangered species is estimated to be around 900 in the world, the CDA claimed to have found 138 Irrawaddy dolphins in Chilka alone. Of total dolphin population in Chilka Lake, 115 are adults, 17 sub-adults and 6 calves. The dolphin population remained 131 in 2006 and 135 in 2007. Giving the credit to local fishing communities and boat operators for the growth of dolphin population Mr. CDA Chief Executive Officer Sudarshan Panda Said, ‘the marginal increase in dolphin population has been possible due to close cooperation of the local fishermen community and tourist boat operators’.

This announcement of current figures about dolphin population followed a census in the lake that is being claimed by CDA to be the first-ever scientific census of dolphins. ‘Till this census, the dolphins were counted on basis of sightings only. But, this is first time we conducted the census using global positioning system (GPS) sets, thermometer, water sample and binoculars. The method of line transect survey was adopted. For the first time visual census was corroborated by the A-Tag data logger (electronic sensors) developed by Japanese scientists and the count matched.’ told CDA chief executive officer Sudarshan Panda while briefing the press. 

In order to achieve maximum perfection, the lagoon was divided into 18 zones. A team of eighty-three persons comprising researchers, officials, NGO workers and academicians took part in the survey that continued for over eight hours at a stretch.

The latest survey pointed out that all four sectors of the lake had some population of the species. Experts were excited to find six dolphins in northern sector of the lake where there was no sighting in the previous years.

Expressing pleasure over the fact of dolphin population being scattered across the lagoon, Mr. Panda highlighted CDA’s dredging work at the Magarmukh mouth, which connects the lake with Bay of Bengal, to facilitate movement of Irrawady dolphins.

Irrawady dolphins inhabit Lakes and rivers of Myanmar, Indonesia, Phillipines, Thailand, Australia, and Cambodia. As per experts participated in the census, 'none of these places have more than 100 of the specis. The mortality rate elsewhere in the world is higher than that of Chilika where only five had died during 2007'. This observation is definitely something to excite CDA.

However, Orissa government shouldn’t be too much excited with marginal increase in dolphin population as death of dolphins is still a usual phenomenon in Chilka. One thing that protects dolphins in Chilka is that most of the fishing communities believe that the dolphins are protected by goddess kalijai. The dolphins are locally known as Bhuasuni fish and never killed or consumed. The dolphins are hardly killed by the local fishing boats but by the strong gheri nets put by outside prawn growers. In spite of Supreme Court judgment, complete abolition of prawn gheris in Chilka Lake has not been possible as most of the players involved in the business are influential people with political connections and money power.

Again, inflow of thousand of tourists through out the year pollutes Chilka Lake and creates hazards for the unique species inhabit the Lake. Local people who are doing business on the banks of Chilka Lake at Satapada, Parikud island, Bhusandpur and Balugaon do sell water in polythene sachets and plastic bottles, snacks in polythene packs to the tourists who throw the wastes in the lake which would be hazardous to dolphins and other species. Secondly over-fishing by greedy businessmen cause harm to the ecosystem of Chilka. These issues must be taken seriously to protect Chilka Lake and its unique ecosystem. To protect the wildlife of Chilka Lake from local poachers, strong execution of wildlife act must be ensured.

It’s not only in Chilka Lake, but the act should be executed strongly in the forest regions to save the wildlife including big cats from the wrath of poaching.



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