Happy to be wrong this one time!

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In 1997, I had published a miscellaneous note in the Journal of Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS) ‘On the occurrence of the Tiger Panthera tigris in Sikkim’, tracing the records of this iconic National Animal in our state way back since 1924, yes, 95 years ago.  In 1994, I was astounded to see an old but real tiger skull and lower jaw at a relative’s in Lachung.  Literature study pointed at a British record of a fresh tiger skin in Lachung in April 1938 reported by a Lt. Col. F. H. Lister also published in JBNHS (Vol. 40 pg 553). My mother-in-law Late Mrs. Ninsha Lachungpa had told me she had seen a tiger in Yumthang when she was grazing her animals during her youth.

Most interesting and heartening was a serious attempt around 1997, to trace the route of the tiger from East to North over 20 years by Sikkim’s famous forester Late Mr. Chezung Lachungpa IFS, based on local reports of kills, sightings, pugmarks  and even compensation paid by the government.  During his time the department had even lifted pugmarks of a large male tiger using plaster of Paris (POP) not too far above Gangtok!  These were lying in his office and were authenticated by an international large cat expert Dr. Rodney Jackson, who visited him.  These casts should still be with someone today.  Mr. Chezung was Chairman Green Circle, Sikkim’s oldest environmental NGO, when he passed on.  He had also sent me along with field staff including Mr. Naku Lepcha FG, to check out a mass killing of yaks at the high altitude Gnathang village in East Sikkim, and we had seen swathes of bamboo flattened with drag marks and other evidences in the area, when there was plenty of snow lying around.  We had no photographic proof until this time.

I had ended my 1997 write-up on a sad note that we had probably lost the tiger in Sikkim, given extensive anthropogenic disturbances along its migratory route from East to North Sikkim.  However in 2017-18, when the state Forest department conducted a state-wide wildlife population estimation using a network of camera-traps under guidance of the Wildlife Institute of India, it was a jubilant moment when the 1st authentic proof of a tiger was captured in a camera trap from Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary.   Soon WII, Dehradun trained then DFO North Mr. Sugen Saring SFS reported possible to definite occurrence of tiger around Naga area but again, there was no visual proof. 

Now finally the news in media celebrating camera proof of perhaps not one but perhaps two different tigers, one definitely a healthy male from not just Naga, but further up above Lachen, with no incidences of human-wildlife conflict involving this magnificent animal, just going about his business carefully avoiding human contact, indeed vindicates the old records with visual proof.  I am indeed happy to be wrong. 

On the occasion of International / Global Tiger Day 29 July 2019, Green Circle heartily congratulates all the officials of the Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management Department, Government of Sikkim and researchers of World Wide Fund for Nature, Sikkim especially Mr. Phuchung Lachenpa’s strategic camera-trapping, for this valuable achievement at this juncture when the rest of the world mourns the killing of tigers in other states of our country.

Usha Lachungpa President, Green Circle
(28 July 2019)

Usha Lachungpa is Retd. Prin. Chief Research Officer, FEWMD, GoS. She is also Founder Member of Sikkim Ornithological Society and member of Sikkim Biodiversity Board. She can be reached via her email ulachungpa@gmail.com


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