After a tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo tested positive for COVID-19, fear of large-scale transmission among tigers affecting their population has grown strong. However, a leading wildlife conservationist has highlighted a much serious issue for tigers than COVID-19 transmission during the pandemic - poaching.
Dr K Ullas Karanth, in a report for Centre for Wildlife Studies, said that the 21-days nationwide lockdown to contain the pandemic has triggered a surge in poaching. He added that the decline in patrol intensity and protection under the early instructions during lockdown has contributed to the surge in tiger hunting.
“Other social factors are also contributing to this surge. Unemployed rural workers, deprived of wages and sources of domestic animal protein, are once again turning to wild meat as was the case in the 1950s and 60s,” wrote the 72-year-old conservationist.
Referring to recent reports from Kodagu and Shivamogga in Karnataka, Dr Karanth said that forest official are facing movement constraints and courts are closed due to the lockdown which has emboldened a new wave of poachers. He warned that the resurgence in poaching will be hard to control and prosecute once unleashed due to the other “social pressures” in play.
Dr Karanth, also a Padma Shri awardee, explained that the novel coronavirus threatening the tiger population is highly unlikely since many other more virulent infections like rabies and canine distemper have had practically no impact on the populace.
“I find the excessive focus and impractical instructions issued by higher officials have received far too much media attention compared to an emergent real threat to tigers as a consequence of the virus-related lockdown,” opined the conservationist.
According to the official figures, India has reported 114 deaths owing to COVID-19 while 3,981 cases of the infectious disease are still active. As per sources, the central government is mulling to extend the lockdown which could further jeopardise the lives of tigers if authorities don’t take the required action to stop poaching.