So elated were Rajasthan's protectors of the wild with the just-concluded 1993 tiger census at the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (RTR), they went to town with the results -- and painted themselves into a corner. The census shows RTR has 28 tigers, down by 17 from a 1991 high of 45. "Though procedures were followed and the census went by the rules, the tiger figures quoted by S S Bhandari (chief wildlife warden) are a tacit admission that RTR lost a large number of tigers in the past two years," says Valmik Thapar of the Ranthambore Foundation.
Project Tiger officials are equally cut up because Bhandari talked to the press before the census figures were officially announced. Project director Arin K Ghosh says, "As far as they are concerned, Bhandari has put his neck in the noose by going to the press with the census results, which they say cannot be anything more than preliminary." Says another expert, "If the state government had invited officials and observers from Delhi, it is expected it will inform them before releasing the results."
Highly placed state government sources reportedly say RTR field director B L Meena has refused to sign the census report, saying the number of tigers counted is wrong. But Bhandari defends his action and the report, saying, "We are the officials in charge at the state level and we maintain the veracity of the report."
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