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The Future of the Bengal Tiger

The Future of the Bengal Tiger

August 2010: Sanctuary Asia presents below an indicative ‘Tiger Agenda’ for the next decade. This has been arrived at in consultation with some of India’s best wildlife experts, including forest officers, state government officials, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and several members of the National Board for Wildlife.

 

These two sparring tigers live in Rajasthan's Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, one of the last bastions for Panthera tigris. Even here, however, the threat of a Sariska-style wipe out of tigers hovers dark over the future of this park. Consolidating the core area, a return to foot patrols, political support backed by resources for field staff, the application of good science, incentives to humans to move away from core-critical habitats, plus other steps suggested in this article, could secure Ranthambhore and its buffers indefinitely. We must believe this will happen. The alternative is almost too depressing to even contemplate – Dhritiman MukherjeeThe ideas are the outcome of several strategy sessions including the many Bengal Tiger Consultations (the briefs are available at http://bit.ly/bM2GYy). From the all-India picture that emerged, Vikram Chandra and the NDTV team chose five states in which to run the very visible NDTV Aircel Save Our Tigers Campaign. We now intend to move public opinion in support of the hard decisions required to be taken by Chief Ministers on the ground by convincing people and their leaders that protecting forest ecosystems will be good for India’s economy and will provide new livelihoods for millions living around our sanctuaries and national parks. In the process, we hope to demonstrate that India’s water, food and climate security can be enhanced at a fraction of the financial cost of less effective strategies.

 

Protecting the tiger, our national animal, and its forests, is crucial to the water, food and economic security of India. The Chief Minister of states that harbour tigers must accept that these life-saving ‘infrastructures’ will save the lives, and livelihoods of their citizens, particularly as climate change moves into higher gear. Enhancing protection for these forests will also cut off the income source of insurrectionists and terrorists, who are in league with the illegal timber and wildlife trade.

 

WHAT CHIEF MINISTERS MUST DO IMMEDIATELY:

 

Protect the protectors: Fill forest guard vacancies within six months. Give forest guards better working conditions, the best leadership, equipment and training and restore foot patrols.

 

Consolidate tiger reserves: Notify buffer zones, protect corridors, stop large scale construction, mining, and damaging projects in and around tiger reserves, divert new highway alignments away from core/critical tiger habitats and restrict traffic from dusk to dawn in existing ones. Securing and expanding the critical tiger habitat network should be a vital priority and policy makers must be convinced that financing such restoration is an effective way for India to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

 

Resettle villages from core/critical tiger habitats: This should be quick, fair and voluntary. Initiatives to encourage villages in critical wildlife habitats to move outwards, closer to markets away from the forest must be a part and parcel of national policy. The process must be transparent and handled by agencies trained to deal with communities. Apart from NTCA funds for resettlement (which ends up restoring habitats) a basket of benefits from varied sources such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), wildlife tourism, wildlife foundations , voluntary carbon offsets, REDD+ could be channeled directly to communities whose sustenance should come from ecological restoration, not extraction of the forest biomass to feed bottomless, commercial market demands.

 

Compensate livestock deaths quickly: Work with NTCA-recommended independent NGOs to certify eligibility. Make quick and fair payments to prevent poisoning of carcasses.

 

Crackdown on poaching: Follow up tight patrolling with speedy convictions and levy punitive spot fines and seize vehicles of offenders. The newly-formulated Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, NGOs and state governments should be working in unison to counter poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Enforcement agencies must be made to see that the decimation of prey species such as deer and wild pigs, which they treat as minor offences, are in fact a sure way to finish off tigers and leopards.

 

Declare tiger reserve buffers as Green Economic Zones (GEZ): All adults living outside, within 10 sq. km. of critical and core critical tiger habitats to be offered livelihoods based on the restoration of the habitat. The ability to return forest status to failed or marginal farms that were created by cutting down forests will determine both, whether we can provide the tiger more space and whether we can find ways to use forests to sequester atmospheric carbon. This is destined to be one of the most vital conservation priorities in the coming years. Towards this, it must be ensured that farmers, graziers and other rural communities living on the periphery of Protected Areas are the primary beneficiaries of ecological restoration.

 

Use science to guide park management:  Encourage independent research projects and ensure that state Forest Departments support field conservation biology projects and use them to better manage the Protected Areas in their charge.

 

STATE-WISE TIGER AGENDA

 

Uttarakhand

 

The Terai landscape in Uttarakhand stretching from the Yamuna to the Sharda river currently has about 200+ tigers with Corbett as the main source. This probably amounts to one-sixth of the current tiger population in India, but the state has the potential to hold a significantly larger number. Towards this end, at the very least, the following steps are required to be taken within a period of three years:

 

  1. Consolidate the Greater Corbett Landscape – with the Ramnagar and Terai forest divisions under the unified control of the Field Director, Corbett Tiger Reserve. Visit http://bit.ly/sanctuaryteraicampaign to read more about the Sanctuary campaign on the consolidation of this landscape.
  2. Notify and protect corridors along the Terai Arc that is the Kosi river, Gola river corridor to facilitate animal movement and minimise conflict. The Terai Arc landscape from Yamuna to Sharda should be one conservation unit. Visit http://bit.ly/sanctuarygolagolaicampaign to know more about the Gola and Golai corridors.
  3. Remove the Sundarkhal encroachment bordering Corbett.
  4. Ensure the relocation of the Khandgaon village and ammunition dump from Rajaji and allow tigers to breed and disperse over the larger Rajaji-Corbett corridor by securing the Laldhang and Kotdwar ranges of Landsdowne Forest Divisions and clearing the Gohri, Chilla and Shyampur ranges of all disturbances.
  5. Remove the irrigation colony at Kalagarh and relocate Gujjars from the critical Corbett precincts.
  6. Set up a special State Tiger Protection Force.
  7. Set up a tourism watch committee that will report to the CEC to ensure that wayward tourism does not impact the integrity of India’s first tiger reserve – Corbett (See Corbett: Tiger Tourism or Trauma, Sanctuary Vol. XXX No. 3, June 2010).

 

Uttar Pradesh

 

This area has a population of about 100 tigers, with Dudhwa as the main source. Consolidating this part of the Terai landscape is vital for the survival of tigers in the state.

 

  1. Consolidate and protect the core critical tiger habitat of Dudhwa. Notify the buffer of the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve.  Unify efforts of the state Forest Department, police, and district administration to tackle poaching, forest fires, retaliatory killings and the siltation of grasslands, the primary habitat of the barasingha. These steps would also reduce human-animal conflict considerably and usher in a period of ecosystem renewal for Dudhwa and its surrounds.
  2. Ensure smooth fund flow to Dudhwa.
  3. It is vital that we secure the fragmented Pilibhit-Kishanpur-Dudhwa-Katerniaghat-Suhelwa corridor, one of the most viable tiger habitats in north India. This will minimise human-animal conflict. A well thought-out scheme to subsidise/incentivise farmers to shift from sugarcane cultivation to other crops like mustard will greatly reduce human-animal conflicts.
  4. Relocate Surma village from Dudhwa’s core. Pilibhit which has been given the in-principle approval by the centre as a tiger reserve must be notified at the earliest. The Suhelwa Sanctuary too must be notified as a part of Dudhwa to maintain ecological contiguity.
  5. Uttar Pradesh must immediately set up a State Tiger Protection Force and deploy armed guards, along the international border with Nepal.

 

Madhya Pradesh

 

This large herd of gaur grazing contentedly in the Kanha Tiger Reserve must suffer human pressures if ever they step outside the protected confines of the park. Restoring the wildlife corridor between Kanha and Pench in Madhya Pradesh would benefit such magnificent herbivores, even as they secure the future of the tiger. This would involve focussed voluntary relocation programmes, combined with laws and rules that ensure that communities in the surrounding villages around core wildlife habitats become the primary beneficiaries of tourism and other sources of income including the government's many poverty alleviation schemes, which must be turned into ecosystem renewal programmes – Dr. Anish AndheriaMP has the highest number of tigers in India, perhaps around 300 if the latest tiger estimation is to be relied on. The population has seen a sharp drop from a high of between 600 and 900 tigers estimated something like 10 years ago. Since the recent estimation of 300 tigers, we also received news that all tigers were wiped out from Panna. Madhya Pradesh, nevertheless, continues to hold a significantly larger tiger population than almost any other Indian state and with proper coordination between Centre (UPA controlled) and State (BJP controlled) this number could rise significantly.

 

  1. Budget for the voluntary resettlement of villages from the core of the Kanha and Satpura Tiger Reserves.
  2. Halt the widening of the NH7 highway, which cuts through the Kanha-Pench corridor and align the road outside Pench. 
  3. The Kanha-Pench corridor hosts between 100-120 tigers at present. The carrying capacity of this landscape can be dramatically improved and corridors restored provided the state and central governments work in unison to implement the sage advice offered by experts. With proper management and adequate protection the Pench-Kanha landscape (20,000 sq. km.) alone could house close to 250 tigers.
  4. Declare Rukhad in Madhya Pradesh as a sanctuary as tigers have been recorded using this stretch to move between Pench and Kanha.
  5. Tourism in tiger reserves should be handled by a dedicated ACF-level ‘tourism officer’ and not by an ACF or RFO from the wildlife wing whose responsibility is and should be protection. Tourism pressures in both Kanha and Bandhavgarh need to be reduced.
  6. Madhya Pradesh needs to set up an armed State Tiger Protection Force as international poaching syndicates are probably more active here than any other Indian state (see Sanctuary Vol. XXIX No. 2, April 2009).

 

To watch the NDTV video story on this landscape go to http://bit.ly/ndtvkanhapenchvideo

 

Karnataka

 

The Bandipur-Nagarahole landscape is part of the crucial Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve hosting over 250 tigers and 2,000 elephants plus several endemic species. Several critical river systems, also originate here.

 

  1. Fill vacant posts of guards and foresters immediately (over 50 per cent posts lie vacant). Reduce frequent transfers (Between 2003 and 2009, 14 DFOs have come and gone in Nagarahole; in Bandipur, on an average DFOs are transferred at a rate of one a year. Hand-pick the best Range Forest Officers and Divisional Conservators of Forest (DCFs).
  2. The vital Moyar corridor between the Western and Eastern Ghats should be strengthened and no further ‘development’ should be allowed here, including hotels and farm houses. Illegal constructions should be demolished.
  3. Rapid Rescue Teams need to be created to mitigate human-animal conflict in the periphery of the parks. In the past year Rs. 2 crores were spent on compensating  people for crop damage, livestock and humans deaths around Bandipur and the Mysore and Kolegal Forest Divisions. 
  4. New highways, pipelines, rail and power lines cannot be allowed to cut through this vital biodiversity vault.
  5. Notify buffers zones on an urgent basis and new land purchases close to the core of the tiger reserves should be prohibited.
  6. Chemical agriculture within a radius of 10 km. of key protected forests must be banned by law. And the trend of farmers moving from traditional crops such as millet and banana, must be prohibited.
  7. The Supreme Court order on Kudremukh mining and notification of Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) around all Protected Areas in a time bound manner requires strict implementation.
  8. The Greater Talakaveri Sanctuary pending before the State Board for Wildlife needs to be notified.
  9. All CAMPA proposals must be reviewed and decisions taken to ensure that this money goes only towards the restoration and protection of wildlife areas and corridors.

 

To watch the NDTV video story on this landscape go to http://bit.ly/ndtvbandipurnagaraholevideo

 

Rajasthan

 

The disappearance of the tiger from Sariska in 2004 is a shock that the nation must turn to its advantage by shoring up protection of all potential tiger habitats. Protection mechanisms in Sariska have undoubtedly improved, however, the steps to move the highway running through the park, curb the activities of the huge temple and relocate villagers is still lagging far behind.

 

  1. Resettling the remaining forest villages away from Ranthambhore and Sariska has to be the number one priority of the state.
  2. A qualified Resettlement Officer needs to be appointed by the State Government to facilitate the voluntary shifting of villages.
  3. Heavy vehicles should not be allowed to pass any longer through State Highway 13 that bisects Sariska.
  4. The Keladevi and Sawai Mansingh Sanctuaries that abut Ranthambhore have the capacity to hold at least another 40 tigers, effectively doubling the existing number of tigers in this landscape. Protecting these areas by relocating villages, strengthening anti-poaching measures and offering massive employment for undertaking ecological restoration can dramatically enhance the security of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve.
  5. Ranthambhore currently has over 50 per cent field vacancies that must be filled.  
  6. An armed Tiger Protection Force needs to be put in place.

 

Sanctuary will, in the next issue, highlight important issues in other tiger states that must be prioritised by Chief Ministers. Readers are encouraged to send in their own suggestions to us.

 

This map shows the wildlife corridors between the Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves. Such corridors are vital to the survival of long-ranging species that are being negatively impacted by human disturbances, including a new crop of totally inappropriate tourist lodges in ecologically fragile zones. The Kanha-Pench landscape currently houses 100-120 tigers and has the potential to sustain many more – Courtesy:Google Earth 

 
 
 

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