Terai (Uttarakhand) As A Conservation Management Unit
April 2010: The All India Tiger estimation in 2008 demarcated 7,000 sq. km. of the 15,000 sq. km. Terai Arc landscape as one of the three most critical habitats to tiger conservation. The identified area extends from the banks of the Yamuna river to the Sharda river and is concentrated mostly in Uttarakhand, starting from the Shivalik-Kalsi Forest Divisions in the west onwards to Rajaji National Park, Hardwar Forest Division, Lansdowne Forest Division, Corbett Tiger Reserve and on to Ramgnagar, Terai West, Terai Central, Terai East, Haldwani and Champawat. A stronghold of tigers and elephants, this landscape currently has a population of about 200 tigers and approximately 800 elephants and the potential to host substantially more. It is the north-westerly limit of both species According to the Status of Tigers, Co-Predators and Prey in India, 2008, this landscape unit is “the most promising for long-term tiger conservation.”
But its potential, and indeed the very future of long-ranging species like the tiger and elephant in this region is severely crippled by the fact that the two Protected Areas within – the Rajaji National Park and the Corbett Tiger Reserve – are getting increasingly islanded. Scientists have long stressed that corridors are critical for the long-term genetic viability of species and for the sustenance of large, viable breeding populations. Isolation greatly hastens the threat of local extinction.
For example, Corbett, with about 160 tigers, is the source population of this entire belt. But with forests around it degraded and connecting corridors blocked, the spillover population simply has no place to go. There is an urgent need to prevent such fragmentation and protect surrounding forests in order for them to act as a ‘sink’ to the spillover population and help it establish, failing which human-wildlife conflict will escalate, and local extinction will become imminent.
The need of the hour is to bring this entire unit under a unified command so that this landscape is managed as a single ‘Conservation Unit’. This is critical to ensure the contiguity of corridors and will help bring territorial forests under wildlife management. For instance, the Ramnagar Forest Division, adjoining the Corbett Tiger Reserve has a few tigers, and the presence of breeding tigresses has also been noted, but the staff is not trained in wildlife management and protection is minimal. Poaching of prey species is rampant and the administration gets no funds or facilities, despite it being a crucial sink forest for spillover wildlife from Corbett.
Similarly, Kolluchaur (under Lansdowne Division) which is contiguous to the Sonanadi Wildlife Sanctuary in Corbett also supports a rich population of both tigers and elephants – a camera-trapping exercise in the space of about a month revealed six different tigers, and also noted the presence of breeding tigresses. This area is being severely degraded due to the presence of Gujjar families and their cattle. The Gujjars here, 24 families, are keen to move out but since it is not part of a Protected Area, there are no funds to initiate this. Further, the routine removal of timber by the Forest Department causes disturbance to wildlife. Kolluchaur suffers from huge anthropogenic pressures as nearby villages depend on the forest to meet their fuelwood, fodder and food requirements. Similarly, Nandour Valley in the extreme east of the Terai in Uttarakhand is 1,200 sq. km. of potential tiger habitat. However, despite its suitability in terms of habitat, prey numbers are very low owing to uncontrolled poaching by local communities. Unmonitored access to the river by the locals in the region also poses a threat to otters, mahseer and other riverine species.
All along the landscape, large-scale collection of boulders from rivers such as Ramganga, Kosi, Gola and Nandour is another serious issue that requires immediate attention.
The need for unified wildlife management for the entire Terai belt cannot be stressed enough – the tigers of Corbett simply have no future if we decimate the forests around it. Currently, these areas are not uniformly well-managed and the corridors between them vary widely in quality. Some are heavily forested and need only heightened protection, while others have been nearly severed by deforestation and agricultural encroachment and require concerted regeneration efforts. Bringing the area under unified wildlife management will also ensure that emphasis is given to restore key corridors such as the Chilla – Motichur corridor which all but divides Rajaji into two. Thus isolated, the tiger is all but locally extinct in the eastern side of Rajaji and field reports have indicated the presence of only one tigress in the western part of the park as opposed to the eight recorded in 2002-2003.
The Kosi river corridor that links Corbett and Ramnagar Forest Division has been decimated by resorts and the Sundarkhal encroachment; and the Gola river corridor has been eroded by an Indian Oil Depot (Sanctuary Asia Vol. XXIX No. 5, October 2009), an Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) encampment and a railway sleeper factory which led to escalated human-elephant conflict in the region. Fortunately, a high level committee has been constituted to look into the ITBP issue and site visits were made to assess the situation. The MoEF is in talks with the ITBP, and the response has been positive. The DG and special Secretary (Forests) Dr. P.J. Dilip Kumar has written to the DG, ITBP suggesting that a suitable, alternate site be considered instead of the present camp which sits right in the corridor. However, if rapid degradation and fragmentation of the Rajaji-Corbett corridor continues, the links will soon cease to be functional. A Corridor Management Plan
must be initiated immediately.
Restoring corridors and health of degraded forests and better protection will also ensure a better prey base and ease the bitter – and sometimes fatal – conflict between man and animal. All these critical issues can be addressed better if viewed from the landscape perspective under a unified command.
THE ROADMAP FOR THE FUTURE
* Declare the stretch between Yamuna and Sharda as a single Conservation Unit.
* Rights and concessions to local communities may continue, but the area must be managed under the Wildlife Division and not the Territorial Division in order to ensure a wildlife-oriented management of the landscape.
* Land-use in important corridors must be well-defined.
* Strict protection is urgently needed to strengthen prey base. Also tigers and other mega-fauna are more vulnerable outside PAs and hence better protection is called for.
*l Human-wildlife conflict can only be mitigated by restoring and protecting corridors and ‘sink habitats’, allowing space for spillover and migrating animals to inhabit, failing which, wildlife straying into villages and cultivation and the inevitable conflict will persist.
With inputs from Prerna Singh Bindra.
Sanctuary urges its readers to write to:
Shri Jairam Ramesh,
Minister of State for Environment and Forests,
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex,
Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110 003.
Shri Ramesh Pokhriyal,
Chief Minister, Uttarakhand,
Chief Minister Niwas, Circuit House,
Old Annexe, Cantonment Road,
Dehradun – 248001.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests,
Government of Uttrakhand,
Dehradun – 248001