Goa: A photograph of a tiger carcass is not exactly the image one would associate with sunny Goa. Yet, it's the strongest proof of the presence of the tiger in the tiny state. That was in 2009. Over two years since, the forest department is still cagey to admit the big cat's presence.
When NDTV asked Goa's Additional Principal Conservator of Forests, Shashi Kumar, if there were tigers in Goa, he said, "This is a very debatable subject. I have discussed this matter with some of the very senior citizens here. They say that most of the time panthers are sighted here which we come across quite often. We rescue them sometimes from habitation. Tiger is very rare. So people are of the opinion they are migratory."
But the government's own records show otherwise. According to forest department records, Goa had six tigers and 25 leopards in 1997, and though the number of tigers dropped in the next census in 2002, the number of leopards rose, encouraging for a state that has over 34 per cent area under protected forest cover.
In June 2011, the then Environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, even wrote to the Goa Chief Minister, Digambar Kamat, asking him to consider setting up a Tiger Reserve in the State.
So far though, the Goa government has sent no proposal to the Centre for setting up any Tiger Reserve. Naturally, that begs the question, what's stopping the government?
Environmentalist Rajendra Kerkar says, "Goa's government since liberation is safeguarding the interest of the mining lobby and whoever maybe the chief minister of Goa, they all are controlled by the mining lobby. In order to protect the interest of the mining lobby, the Goa government did not want this area to be known for the tigers. So if the tiger presence is proved in this area and if Goa government believes that tigers are there in this area then they will have to accept the national and international norms under which they will have to protect this area for the tigers."
No wildlife census was conducted in Goa between 2002 and 2010 - the years that coincide with the huge mining boom seen in the state and even the data for 2010 has still not been made public.
Internationally, India is seen as the last hope for saving the tiger but that will only be possible when all stake holders are on the same page and in the case of Goa it could well begin with coming out of denial.