In a recent press conference, Rajan Savlo Ghate passionately highlighted several key points in his fight to designate Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary as a Tiger Reserve. Here’s a summary of his compelling arguments:
- Goa’s Vulnerability to Climate Change: Ghate emphasized that Goa, a small coastal state in India, is already on the list of areas facing serious ecological threats due to rising sea levels. He pointed out that the mangrove forests along the coast and the remaining lush evergreen forests in the Western Ghats could provide natural protection against calamities like cyclones, earthquakes, and floods. He linked this protection to the importance of preserving the proposed tiger reserve, stressing that recent natural disasters elsewhere have underscored the urgency of safeguarding such natural habitats.
- Evidence of Resident Tigers: Ghate countered claims that Goa does not support a resident tiger population, citing historical experiences of Goans and scientific evidence. He mentioned that in 2013, camera traps captured a tigress feasting on a wild boar, confirming the presence of these big cats. Renowned researcher Dr. Ullas Karanth further validated this uniqueness. The recent India tiger report, released by the Prime Minister, also corroborated the existence of tigers in Goa. Ghate urged the Goa government to acknowledge these findings instead of denying the reality.
- Failure to Protect Tigers: Ghate criticized the Goa government for failing to protect tiger populations and their natural habitat from 2009 to 2019, suggesting that this negligence served certain vested interests. He highlighted Goa’s historical role as a breeding ground for big cats, pointing out numerous shrines dedicated to the Tiger god, Vaghrodev, throughout the state.
- Core and Buffer Zone: Ghate advocated for designating at least 500 sq. km of already notified wildlife sanctuaries or national parks as core areas and the remaining as a buffer zone within the Mhadei Tiger Reserve.
- Minimal Impact on Mining and Tourism: Ghate assured that mining leases included in mining blocks would not be significantly affected, as many were already outside the buffer zone. He also noted that eco-tourism activities, like Jeep Safaris, could continue as in other Indian Tiger Reserves, with the only change being the reduction of haphazard and illicit activities.
- Minimal Disruption to Human Settlements: Ghate clarified that the proposed reserve would primarily encompass previously notified reserve forest areas, sparing local areas with human settlements, agriculture, and horticulture. He mentioned guidelines issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority for necessary rehabilitation packages and benefits for families residing in forested areas.
- Limited Rehabilitation Needed: Ghate contended that only around 50 families would require rehabilitation from the core areas of the Mhadei Tiger Reserve. He dismissed claims made under the guise of protecting local communities, alleging that some politicians sought to resume mining activities within Goa’s forests.
- Government’s Failure to Safeguard Wildlife: Ghate criticized the Goa government, led by elected representatives, for inadequately protecting the natural habitat of big cats and other wildlife. He challenged the government’s assertion that tigers from neighboring Maharashtra and Karnataka were venturing into Goa for food, citing a lack of scientific validation for such claims.