Panaji: Grassroots wildlife activists who have been fighting for notification of Goa's rich, but mining-threatened, forests as a tiger reserve have found a unique way to compensate a 51-year-old widow whose cow was killed by a big cat in September.
The milk-yielding cow was a lifeline for Sai Pingle, 55, a dhangar tribal and a mother of two boys living in a thatched hut in the remote village of Ponsuli on the fringe of the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary.
'We decided to collect money and compensate her with another cow. The local population should not turn against the tiger. It is imperative that they realise how important the animal is for the sustenance of this forest in the long run,' renowned wildlife activist Rajendra Kerkar said.
His Vivekanand Environment Awareness Brigade (VEAB) has taken the lead for collecting donations for the cow. 'A desi variety cow, the kind which was killed by the tiger, costs Rs.15,000, but a tiger is priceless,' Kerkar said.
Kerkar's anxiety stems from extremely practical reasons.
Last year, a tiger was snared and poached in the very same Mhadei wildlife sanctuary by members of a local hunting tribe called the 'Majiks'. Interestingly, both top forest department officials and the local administration first tried to cover up the poaching incident. The chief conservator of forests, Shashi Kumar, even went to the extent of calling Kerkar, who exposed the poaching episode, an abettor.
'The sensitisation of the local population towards the tiger is extremely essential to ensure the preservation of the animal. If the tiger is to frequent the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary, the local residents cannot have animosity towards it,' Kerkar said.
He said people like Sai Pingle who live near wildlife sanctuaries should not begin to curse the king of the jungle.
Pingle's cow is not the only kill by carnivores in recent times. Increasing mining activity near Goa's wildlife sanctuaries has resulted in the displacement of the fauna near settlement areas, surrounding the protected habitat.
'Pingle and others like her cannot be compensated officially by the forest department because cattle are not allowed to graze in the wildlife sanctuary territory. So this is our effort to ensure that the kill does not affect her feelings for the tiger,' said Kerkar.
His VEAB has managed to create a small army of green-minded youngsters in the northern back-of-beyonds of Goa, 70 km from Panaji.
Kerkar said if the 'Cow for Pingle' formula works, then similar efforts would be made to collect donations for those economically backward folk whose bovines were lost to tiger kills.
Eco Treks Goa (ETG) has aligned itself along with the VEAB in the campaign. A very popular trekking group, ETG has also been at the forefront of the state's green brigade.
'A poor woman in the Chorla region lost her cow to a tiger some time back. It was a source of income to her. VEAB has initiated a campaign to buy a cow for her so that people do not turn against the tiger. The cost of the cow is Rs.15,000,' is ETG promoter Olympio Almeida's appeal to Facebookers online.
Wildlife activists claim that the grudging reluctance of the forest department and the state administration to admit to the presence of the tiger in Goa's numerous wildlife sanctuaries stems from the fact that notification of a tiger reserve in the area would severely impede the Rs.6,000 crore mining industry, which threatens to rip into Goa's green cover.
Environmentalist Claude Alvares said: 'Look at the many places in Goa named after tigers. The official census doesn't show any tigers from Goa when this is a tiger place - the tiger poaching incident itself reflects that. It means the national count of 1,411 tigers goes up.
'The forest department seems to be more concerned with conserving mining in the area than conserving wildlife,' Alvares alleged.