“Leave Me Alone” – The Voice Of The Tiger… Vignettes Of Tigerland
Clearly, this is not a people versus wildlife obsession as some myopic people suggest. Our fate and that of the natural world are trussed together inextricably. Protecting the gene plasm contained in the tiny biodiversity vaults we call national parks and sanctuaries is probably the ultimate human rights issue. Equally vital is the imperative of guaranteeing the well-being and the right to life and dignity of communities living closest to these natural treasuries, for they are destined to be the ultimate custodians of the biodiversity that is the heartbeat of our planet.
Photo: Sachin Rai.
In the past few decades, however, insatiable market forces have weaned communities that once lived in a tenuous balance with nature away from natural living. In fact, livelihoods of most such communities now involves daily wages to cart biodiversity out of natural ecosystems to feed bottomless markets. The most obvious examples of such self-defeating livelihoods includes the sale of tendu leaves to the bidi (local cigarette) industry, bamboo stripped for papermills, firewood lifted for urban kitchens, and minerals of all descriptions in scales large or small. None of these and scores of other livelihoods are sustainable. None of these can possibly rescue the poor from poverty.
It is in this context that Sanctuary Asia posits India’s save the tiger ambition. It is in this context that we ask that human rights’ and nature rights’ groups unite against the forces that have divided and ruled us at the cost of both our biodiversity and welfare and dignity of our people.
Why ‘Leave Me Alone’?
Project Tiger’s success in the 1970s and 1980s can be attributed to its ‘leave the tiger alone’ strategy, which resulted in such a dramatic tiger and biodiversity recovery that even critics grudgingly acknowledged that Project Tiger was probably the ‘most successful conservation project in the world’.
The strategy then was simple: Choose representative ecosystems in which tigers and the plants and animals with which they co-evolved, remove permanent human dwellings, agriculture and industry from such spaces, and leave nature to regenerate by repairing itself. Backed by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, nature did respond well. Streams and rivers that used to dry soon after the monsoon began to run full. Species of plants, insects, birds and animals that looked like they would vanish sprang back to life. Not by undertaking any massive greening programmes, but by leaving nature alone so that wind, water and living species were able to combine to renew damaged geographies, with little or no effort from humans apart from securing the inside of the chosen Protected Areas from outside damage.
Four decades later, however, political support for Project Tiger has virtually vanished and consequently many past gains, which had come primarily at the cost of communities who were summarily torn from ancestral homes, have been severely eroded.
As tigers once more struggle for survival, a global ‘Leave Me Alone’ (LMA) campaign, looks to nudge India ‘back to the future’ to guarantee the tiger space, isolation and protection from its principle threats: poaching, dams, mines, linear intrusions including canals, highways and railway lines, and encroachments at the hands of both rich and poor.
The strike strategy of the LMA campaign involves the creation and championing of right livelihoods for millions of ‘ecosystem people’ whose sustenance must come from regeneration of biodiversity, not from its depletion.
The return of the tiger in Community Nature Conservancies will be a collateral benefit of improving the human condition, not its central purpose. Other collateral benefits of allowing nature to regenerate naturally would be improved flood and drought control, climate mitigation and adaptation for hundreds of million Indians at risk from climate gone wrong. As farsighted economists are at pains to point out to their archaic colleagues, all this must result in a dramatically rejuvenated economy, as the nature-capital of the Indian subcontinent begins to be rebuilt by working in concert with nature’s imperatives.
The option, of continuing to wage war against nature, has foregone conclusions that should terrify young Indians who stand no chance of leading normal, happy, safe and carefree lives in an era of climate change.
We should start with a reality check. We must discount the PR being put out by self-congratulatory Indian government agencies. The news on the tiger front is not good. But all is not lost by any measure either. We have more areas protected under the Project Tiger umbrella than ever before… we have more tiger supporters than ever before. But we have fewer tigers. And we have lost over half of the roughly 300,000 sq. km. of tiger habitat that existed on the day that Project Tiger was launched in 1973. Much of this to dams, mines, roads and commercial monoculture plantations. And possibly an equal amount to encroachments and agriculture.
Nevertheless, in the name of the tiger we have managed to save species as diverse as the hard-ground barasingha of Kanha, saltwater crocodile of the Sundarbans, golden langur in Manas and the Forest Spotted Owlet in Melghat. And, despite the litany of bad news on the wildlife front, some scientists are still confident that because breeding populations in diverse tiger habitats still survive, tiger numbers in India could conceivably rise from under 2,000 to over 10,000 – provided accepted policies for tiger protection are actually implemented.
Over the years, Sanctuary’s writers have been consistently underscoring the threats to India’s tiger reserves and Protected Areas in the public domain. While these efforts have raised the level of public support, particularly from young India, we have regrettably been unable to win the support of India’s public servants as defined by her aging politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and economists.
On Global Tiger Day, July 29, therefore, a nation-wide initiative titled ‘Leave me Alone’ has been put in place, designed to embed just one dominant thought in the psyche of all who say they want the tiger saved – nature can repair the damage inflicted on wild India if we leave it alone to heal in Intensive Conservation Units, or ICUs.
Corbett Tiger Reserve
This is where Project Tiger was launched on April 1, 1973. Named after the famous Jim Corbett, this is now one of India’s best managed tiger reserves (Sanctuary Vol. XXVI No. 2, April 2006), which, despite a multitude of problems, offers a viable breeding habitat for tigers. It also happens to be one of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Nevertheless, both elephant and tiger poaching incidents have taken place and the park is also severely afflicted with the wrong kind of tourism with lodges having come up in all the wrong places, seriously impacting elephant and tiger movement. Lantana camara and other weeds, forest fires, dynamite fishing and polluting industries in nearby Rudrapur and Kashipur, impact the reserve as do illegal encroachments and a stubborn irrigation colony in Kalagarh that refuses to move out despite court battles and public opinion. This park feeds the Ramganga river that pours into the Ganges. It is in India’s national interest to protect it. The Supreme Court needs to crack the whip to rein in all manner of offenders harming Corbett. In the words of Brijendra Singh, Honorary Wildlife Warden: “The lodges are ‘ring-barking’ Corbett and choking it.”
Made famous by the late Billy Arjan Singh, Dudhwa is where rhinos were successful reintroduced (Sanctuary Vol. X No. 5, October 1990). This reserve is also home to the barasingha and the highly-endangered Bengal Florican. Sugarcane fields along the boundary have caused massive tiger-human conflicts with both losing out. Encroachments and the sharing of a porous border with Nepal have encouraged poaching and a flourishing wildlife trade. Forest fires, retaliatory killings, siltation of grasslands, human-animal conflict and linear intrusions constitute other threats. Dudhwa needs much greater public and political support and funds. Settlements in the core and buffer must be resettled outside. Given the low intensity tourism here, smaller Community Nature Conservancies with home-stays have a good chance of success.
The late Fateh Singh Rathore is instantly associated with the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan (Sanctuary Vol. XXXI No. 4, August 2011). Together with the Keladevi Sanctuary to the northeast and the Qualji Closed Area and Sawai Man Singh Sanctuary to the south-west, this park has the potential to greatly expand its horizons to the advantage of Rajasthan’s water security. To the east, Ranthambhore runs contiguous with the Kuno and Madhav National Parks of Madhya Pradesh and to the south, the Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve (approved in-principle) adds a hypnotic possibility of real contiguity and of absorbing some of the big cats that migrate at some future date.
As of now, however, corridors are degraded and an insular tiger population is the result, barring a few strays leaving the park. A large human population surrounding the forest exerts biotic pressures and whenever young tigers go out in search of territory, they are under threat from angry people. Prosopis juliflora, an exotic invasive, has taken over between 10-20 percent of the reserve and is spreading. Illegal mining for construction material at the edges, coupled with staff shortages are issues that have not yet been adequately tackled. Poachers have hit Ranthambhore badly three times in the last three decades.
Ranthambhore’s high profile should be its armour of protection, but uncontrolled tourism will have little benefit actually going towards either wildlife conservation or community welfare. Another huge issue is pilgrimage tourism, which leaves plastic, noise and pollution in its wake.
Tigers went locally extinct here, then were re-introduced. But the primary reason for their being wiped out, antagonistic locals in league with poaching gangs, has not been tackled. Nor have most of the other limiting factors including a highway running through the park. The good news is that in recent months strong steps have been taken to improve patrolling and to take on poachers. But the reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXVIII No. 5, October 2008) is fragmented and a combination of cattle grazing, mining, human-wildlife conflict and forest fires continue to threaten the park. The Wildlife Institute of India played a key role in planning and monitoring the reintroduction of tigers and they must now be authorised to create and help in the monitoring of a scientific conservation management plan and long-term tiger recovery plan, which includes joining forest blocks in Alwar Division and Jamva Ramgarh Sanctuary (hit by mining!) in Jaipur. Other corridors that should be joined to Sariska include Bundi, Kota, Chittorgarh, Udaipur and Sirohi.
Photo: Rajarshi Banerji.
Kishor Rithe of the Satpuda Foundation has consistently been working with the Maharashtra Forest Department to free this remarkable dry deciduous forest of encroachers and poaching gangs. In recent times a revamped protection mechanism and staff motivation have combined to dramatically improve the tiger situation, particularly since several dozen villages have indicated their strong desire to move out and some have already done so. Nevertheless, forest fires, illegal grazing, quarrying, road-widening projects and the spread of exotic plants continues to place pressure on the reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXXI No. 5, October 2011). The Chikaldhara Pumped Storage Project on the boundary of the reserve and the Upper Tapi Stage II Project have been rejected, but contractors in search of lucrative contracts refuse to give up and are still hoping to induce politicians to “somehow allow” these destructive projects to be built. Meanwhile, the relatively low tiger density shows signs of improvement, in keeping with increased prey densities.
This is probably India’s most exciting tiger reserve, thanks to major management steps taken to revive and expand its boundaries and connect the park to outlying Reserved Forests, thus offering tigers, protection, space and isolation. Flanked to the south and east by the Reserved Forests of Chandrapur and to the north / northeast by Brahmapuri, the scope for the Tadoba landscape becoming the tigers’ new hope in India is bright. As of now, however, we must contend with the reality of man-animal conflict and retaliatory poisoning of cattle kills. A totally pointless proposed dam, the Human Irrigation Project, continues to rear its head. Over 50 villages lie inside of five kilometres of the border and Sanctuary Asia has mooted the idea of creating Community Nature Conservancies (Sanctuary Vol. XXXIII No. 3, June 2013), which have the potential of offering thousands of livelihood opportunities, with a dramatic reduction in human-animal conflict, even as tiger numbers rise. As of now the northwest boundary of the reserve, which has a negligible buffer, is the most vulnerable.
Major battles were fought for Pench a decade ago when the fish mafia and the irrigation colonies threatened to wipe out these forests. Today, this central Indian landscape (Sanctuary Vol. XXII No. 3, June 2002) represents one of the finest tiger recovery stories emanating from India. But we need greater political support from the Central Government, which is singularly focussed on creating commercial infrastructures such as highways, while refusing to even consider bypassing the most ecologically sensitive forest patches. Connectivity between the Pench and Tadoba Tiger Reserves through the Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary-Navegaon National Park is a distinct possibility now thanks to some very positive decisions taken by the Maharashtra Government. But we are still far away from the restoration of buffer zones and we need steps to connect these forests to those of Mansinghdev. Nagpur’s people want the city to be called the Tiger Capital of India, but for this to actually take root it is the tigers’ priority that must determine the land use outside of Nagpur where tigers exist on all four sides.
This Western Ghats’ tiger landscape (Sanctuary Vol. XXV No. 3, June 2005), located in the southern aspect of the legendary Sahyadri ranges, incorporates Koyna, Chandoli, Radhanagari and Sagareshwar, which have seen protection since 1985. “The declaration of Sahyadri as a tiger reserve will greatly enhance protection,” says G. Sai Prakash, a forest officer whose passionate efforts contributed in getting this tiger reserve notified. “Now it is vital that we convert private lands, gaonthan areas and other government department-held lands into conservancies that can offer visitors the opportunity to savour this wild paradise, while adding their strength to its protection,” he said to Sanctuary. The narrow forest corridor connecting Chandoli with Koyna, also needs to be secured. The Karad-Chiplun highway passes through here and efforts should be made to widen the forested corridor, not the road, which is picturesque with great tourist potential. South of Chandoli, the Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary also cries out for better corridor connectivity for tigers. As of now wildlife movement is pinched by the steep valleys of Vishalgad and Amba and very destructive mining near Udgiri.
One of the most exciting places to see tigers in India, the reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXXII No. 3, June 2012) is located in the Vindhyan ranges, where some of the oldest hills on the planet flirt with eastern aspects of the Satpuras. Bandhavgarh was carved from the protected Central Indian Highland forests. Today, this world-famous reserve is a victim of its own success. Runaway tourism has brought in a whole slew of problems. Add to this bauxite mining, coal mining, poaching, urbanisation of Tala village, flyash dumping in the Johila river and degradation of the corridor between the Bandhavgarh and Sanjay Reserves – and it is obvious that Bandhavgarh needs help. An ecologically-restored Panpatha would enhance wildlife corridor connectivity with M.P.’s Sanjay and Chattisgarh’s Guru Ghasida National Parks. Chattisgarh’s Achanakmar Tiger Reserve towards the southeast and M.P.’s Phen Wildlife Sanctuary and Kanha Tiger Reserve must also be linked to Bandhavgarh. The Umaria-Rewa road and another between Parasi, Khitoli and Barhi must be shifted away. It is vital that an area of 10 km. around the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve be declared as ecologically fragile under the Environment Protection Act.
Dr. George Schaller worked here and put Kanha on the world map through his epic book, The Deer and the Tiger. Initially protected as a national park for barasingha whose numbers had plummeted, Kanha’s declaration as a tiger reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXXI No. 6, December 2011) saw its protected confines expand to around 2,000 sq. km. including the Mukki and Halon valleys. The Kanha-Pench landscape and its connectivity to forests in Maharashtra present us with the best hope we have for the long-term survival of the striped predators in central India. Unfortunately, connecting corridors in Seoni and Wara tehsils are already degraded and poaching for ‘bush meat’ is commonplace. Kanha’s buffer desperately needs to be extended southwest through the tehsil of Baihar in the Balaghat district. Dispersing tigers from Kanha and Bandhavgarh have been reported from distant locations in the Mandla district and seem to serve as a conduit for tiger populations existing in Madhya Pradesh all the way to Achanakmar. Tiger-centric tourism policies (such as the infamous tiger shows) provide few benefits to local communities, and even less money from tourism finds its way back to hardcore conservation. Anthropogenic pressures including illicit bamboo extraction in the buffer zone, and insidious deforestation, coupled with forest fires are serious issues threatening this beautiful reserve, which is the southern source of the Narmada river.
The Pench Tiger Reserve’s critical core area is now virtually free of human habitation and its buffer zones have healthy forests. The forest staff has created good working plans that include soil and water conservation efforts and natural regeneration of vegetation. As in other parks, there is a shortage of staff and the buffer zone with over 100 villages is still not under the control of the Field Director. An important link between tiger habitats to the west and south (Melghat) and to the east (Kanha and Nagzira), illegal fishing in the reservoir, poaching and forest fires set by intruders continue to harm the forest. The Pench hydroelectric dam is one more cross that this magical tiger reserve must bear. Compensating crop damage and guaranteeing communities a livelihood based on the restoration of biodiversity could turn the fortunes of thousands of families living in abject poverty around. More coordination and joint-patrolling and sharing of intelligence between Pench (M.P.) and Pench (Maharashtra) would dramatically benefit both tiger reserves.
Possibly one of the most picturesque of all Indian tiger reserves, this is the jewel in the crown of the 25,000 sq. km. Satpura landscape (Sanctuary Vol. XXIV No. 6, December 2004). Its remarkable ecological values have bought much-needed global attention to this lush biodiversity-rich forest. Right now it is a good breeding site for tigers but when young-adult tigers try to disperse they are unable to easily find territories of their own. To Satpura’s northeast, the forests of Chindwara act as a connecting link with the Maikal landscape (through the Pench-Kanha corridor). Several villages lie within and outside the reserve. Herbivore density is relatively low on account of encroachments and the consequent degradation of vital meadows that herbivores need to survive. Inadequate and an aging field staff and lack of equipment are other issues hampering effective protection and monitoring of tigers. The adjoining Pachmarhi forests were once a major tiger stronghold, but these now face the brunt of runaway construction and uncontrolled religious and commercial tourism. Several villages situated in Bori Sanctuary want to resettle outside the critical tiger habitat and if this task is conducted justly and transparently it would benefit both people and the park. Some fringe villages could find their fortunes made if sensible people work with them to create Community Nature Conservancies, with professionally managed homestays on lands owned by the villagers themselves.
This little known tiger reserve incorporates both the Sanjay National Park and the Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary, jointly extending across 831 sq. km. in the Kusumi and Majhauli blocks of the Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh. A tentative corridor connecting Sanjay-Dubri to Bandhavgarh results in tigers straying from this more famous reserve, seeking sanctuary from time to time in these sal, bamboo, mixed forest glades. And though human disturbance and overgrazing are the order of the day, in the words of the Field Director, K. Raman: “This is one of the most beautiful tracts of forest land in India and its strategic positioning can best be understood by the fact that earlier this year, in March 2013, elephants from Betla (Palamau), actually reached Sanjay-Dubri and returned after spending time feeding and resting. Naturalists also confirm sightings of skimmers in this moist deciduous wildlife paradise, which shares a boundary with the Guru Ghasidas National Park in Chhattisgarh.
Here too, all tigers were wiped out, because officials went into a denial mode when Dr. Raghu Chundawat warned, for over a year, that one by one the tigers he was monitoring through satellite collars were going missing (Sanctuary Vol. XXVIII No. 3, June 2008). By all accounts, however, the relocation programme that followed in the wake of the official acceptance that all of Panna’s tigers had been poached, has shown a measure of success. Located on the banks of the Ken river, Panna is rightly proud of the fact that as many as 12 tiger cubs were born here in 2012. However, old problems refuse to go away and these need strong political will. One tiger cub, for instance, was found dead in late July 2012. Poaching, loss of fringe habitats, illegal fishing, the illegal removal of timber and overgrazing are unsolved issues. Worse, a national highway through the reserve is now causing even more roadkills and diamond mining too is a problem that needs to be addressed if the tiger is to have any kind of long-term future here.
Photo: Aditya Chandra Panda.
Located along the Indo-Nepal border, this reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXX No. 2, April 2010) is contiguous with the world-famous Chitawan National Park and the Parsa Wildlife Reserve in Nepal. Despite the potential of this large landscape unit for tigers, it has largely been given step-motherly treatment and continues to suffer ungodly biotic pressure from around 140 villages located close to the reserve boundary. As many as 20 villages remain in the core as well. Recent efforts of NGOs and the Bihar Forest Department seem to be creating circumstances in which local communities might support conservation actions, provided officials realise that such communities must be the principal beneficiaries of any incomes that flow from tourism and other forest conservation initiatives.
For over two decades virtually no management plans, or protection efforts have been implemented in this once-magical tiger forest (Sanctuary Vol. XX No. 2, April 2000) in the very heart of India. The administration has been totally checkmated by the armed Naxal movement. Consequently, no ecological assessments have been made and there is the possibility that such threats could also move eastwards to encompass the Navegaon-Indravati landscape and the corridors that are vital for wildlife movements between Kanha, Pench and Tadoba. Indravati’s forests are also connected with tiger-occupied habitats in northern Andhra Pradesh and western Orissa, but we have no real ground information on the status of this area. What we do know is that wildlife and timber poaching is rampant, as is illegal mining and the illicit felling of khair and teak, which unconfirmed reports believe is in the control of underworld criminal networks, which have been able to forge an unholy partnership with groups that were once mission-driven, but are now in the clutches of hardcore money-making ambitions.
This forest feeds the northern source of the Narmada river. The Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXVIII No. 3, June 2008) is part of the Maikal landscape and is one of the most vital links in the Central Indian tiger heartland. The connectivity with Kanha in particular, offers great potential for tiger populations to thrive. Problems facing the park include forest fires set by cattle grazers and the presence of over 20 villages inside the park, most of them in the core. Evidence suggests that many of these villages rely on their connections with poaching and timber mafias. The Bilaspur-Amarkantak highway cuts clean through the park. Such issues are a direct result of a lack of political will. Nevertheless, the very fact that the forest has been protected offers some degree of protection from permanent destruction at the hands of large-scale industrial projects.
The Sitanadi and Udanti forest areas run contiguous with the Sunabeda-Khariar forests in the Nuapara district of Orissa, a critical tiger habitat. The Sonabeda-Udanti-Indravati belt continues to harbour tigers as do the Balimela and Kondakamberu Sanctuaries, which extend all the way from East Godavari, Khammam and Vishakapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. Quarries, diamond mining, clearing of forests for agriculture through the misuse of the Forest Rights Act, combine with shifting cultivation, overgrazing and forest fires and not only threaten the potential of this tiger habitat, but also keep communities in a permanent poverty cycle where they are condemned to earn daily wages almost forever, to supply their own forest biomass to bottomless markets through exploitative middlemen.
Sunabeda, which is in western Orissa, borders Udanti-Sitanadi and has received in-principle approval, though the state government is yet to notify it as a tiger reserve. Naxalite insurgency is the main limiting factor here and hopefully reserve status will help to put an end to this in this vital tiger breeding habitat.
One man, S.E.H. Kazmi, has taken it upon himself to resurrect Palamau (Sanctuary Vol XVI No. 5, October 1996). This reserve, once the pride of Project Tiger, has been overrun by armed insurgency. That, along with apathy by the state government, which has led to a shocking 90 per cent staff deficiency in the reserve, had caused monitoring and protection activities to virtually come to a standstill. With strong leadership, and effective monitoring using camera traps and foot trackers, the presence of at least four tigers in 40 per cent of the park area has been established. Two of these tigers are being tracked on a daily basis and Kazmi believes that with protection Palamau might soon witness confirmed tiger breeding. Just a few short years ago, not a single tiger sighting was recorded here (during the Phase I survey by WII), but improved relationship with local communities seems to be throwing up a model in the making to demonstrate how park managements can operate even in Naxalite affected geographies. As we have seen in the case of almost all the most successful parks, when the Field Director leads from the front, his or her men too perform beyond the call of duty. This is the promise being held out by Palamau. These forests feed water into the Auranga, North Koel and Burha rivers – the lifelines of this drought prone area. The strength of this landscape lies in its connectivity to reserves in the Central Indian tiger landscape. Palamau is connected to source populations of tigers in Bandhavgarh and Kanha, through the Sanjay-Dubri and Achanakmar Tiger Reserves respectively. It is also connected to other tiger habitats such as Saranda, Lawalong and Hazaribagh, which can once again be reinvigorated with tigers if Palamau is protected and its tiger population strengthened.
One threat hanging over Palamau is the exponential increase in the number of villages in the reserve since its inception – 199 within just 1,130 sq. km. These villages have a population of 1.5 lakh people and an equal number of cattle. This has the impact of decimating the prey base, forcing carnivores to prey on domestic livestock, thus aggravating human-animal conflict. Poaching for the pot hardly helps. Villages such as Kujrum, one of the eight villages in the core area, want to be rehabilitated outside the reserve. This will greatly help the people and give Palamau a second lease on life. But we need total coordination between the tiger reserve management, the District Administration and State Forest Department.
This famous tiger reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXIX No. 3, June 2009) is on the recovery path since the extremist attack in 2009. The Forest Department, led by an able Field Director, has managed to enforce some degree of protection inspite of all the hurdles. Down the years, the reserve has suffered greatly at the hands of elephant and timber poachers. The annual local tribal mass hunting ritual called Akhanda Shikar has also presented a huge challenge on top of the regular trapping of animals and uncontrolled cattle grazing. Fortunately, no mass hunting was allowed in 2013 thanks to the department’s efforts that have been strengthened by hiring almost 500 fresh recruits. Tiger sightings and signs are more common now and monitoring through both line transects and camera trap technique is ongoing. Prey species too could be making a comeback. However, despite the official notification, the Special Tiger Protection Force is yet to be formed and reports suggest that as an interim measure, the state government is planning to put together a team by diverting existing forest staff from other divisions. In 2010, Jenabil, the largest of the four villages in the core area of the reserve was voluntarily rehabilitated. Two more villages and two settlements inhabited by Khadia tribals in Upper Barhakamuda wish to be relocated. The remaining villagers in Bakua will possibly follow suit, despite the propaganda unleashed to prevent them from accepting the offer that some among them say is generous. Northern Similipal with several villages, low prey density and human pressures, needs particular attention.
Despite its inclusion in the Project Tiger fold some five years ago, this reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXVIII No. 2, April 2008) has been going steadily downhill. There have been no signs of tigers breeding here in the last three years. Five villages exist within the small core and more than a 100 villages lie on the fringes and borders. Though one of the villages has petitioned for relocation, this has not been actioned, apparently due to shortage of funds. CAMPA funds should be used to enable this as relocation will allow fields to be converted back to meadows, which is vital for the prey population to revive. The reserve is in urgent need of good leadership, experienced forest officers and a scientifically robust tiger monitoring regimen. This reserve along with forests in the Baissipalli belt and adjoining reserved forests is home to as many as 500 elephants. It is also linked to forests of Western Orissa, including the Khalasuni-Badrani (Ushakoti) section. Ghumusar is further connected to Kondhmal, and the Dandakaranya forests on the borders of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh. The NH-42 and the Rengali canal have seriously affected tiger and elephant movement between Satkosia and Similipal.
Photo: Phillip Ross.
NagarjunaSagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR)
This Chenchu homeland (Sanctuary Vol. XXXII No. 2, April 2012) was once amongst the richest wildlife areas in India. This is also the largest tiger reserve in India. Gundla Brameshwaram (GBM), contiguous to NSTR, has been brought under NSTR on paper, though experts suggest that it be notified as a separate tiger reserve given that the existing reserve is itself difficult to manage. GBM, which is free of any human habitation inside the sanctuary, and has a substantial buffer of its own, could be the third and most productive tiger reserve of the state.
In recent times, NSTR has made a significant comeback from the dark days of Naxal violence. The Forest Department and NGOs have worked closely with the local Chenchu population who are now at the cutting edge of conservation initiatives. In one such effort, 250 to 300 Chenchus have been recruited as tiger trackers and forest watchers. Much of the credit for the revival of the reserve since 2005 goes to successive Field Directors A.K. Naik and Rahul Pandey. The reserve now boasts of three tigers per 100 sq. km. Vast swatches of human free forest are now the order of the day and more such areas are on the anvil. A huge issue is the unjustified, some would say, criminal, clearance given for uranium exploration on the border of the tiger reserve. This watershed feeds the reservoir, which is the source of supply of freshwater for millions and the decision must be reversed. Another huge issue is the blind desire of developers to widen the alignment of the state highway. Meanwhile, the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department is working to enhance the prey base and step up protection. This is a difficult terrain to study, and document and the forest is still prone to cattle grazing, illegal fishing (with illegal settlements along the Krishna river) and uncontrolled religious tourism. Say Asif and Imran Siddiqui, “What we need on a priority are improvised methods to stem poaching, strong anti-poaching teams, foot patrols and intelligence gathering on the illegal wildlife trade.”
Two young tiger warriors, by the names of Asif and Imran Siddiqui, together with their colleagues as well as the Forest Department kept doggedly fighting to have Kawal (Sanctuary Vol. XXXI No. 4, August 2011) declared a tiger reserve for over 10 years. That this is now Andhra Pradesh’s second tiger reserve is to a very large extent thanks to their commitment in the face of cynicism and apathy. The victory comes as a blow to some local politicians in league with timber and sand mafias who even tried to spread false rumours among the 40 villages in the area that they would be displaced without mercy. The Forest Department must, however, be sensitised to have very transparent consultations with local communities at the gram sabha level so that the tentative bridges built can be strengthened. The repair of Kawal’s corridors linking it to the Tadoba-Andhari and Indravati Tiger Reserves, which are severely degraded and fragmented is vital. Just one year of patrolling, uncovered as many as 400 traps, foiled 12 poaching attempts and exposed as many as 20 smuggling networks. But the reserve still needs a solid management plan grounded in science so that ecosystem restoration benefits the forest and local communities. Nothing, of course, can replace foot patrols and robust anti-poaching protocols, which will always remain the backbone of any wildlife protection measures.
The tropical evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous forest habitats of the southern Western Ghats has several Protected Areas. Of these, the Nagarahole-Bandipur-Mudumalai-Wynaad landscape (Sanctuary Vol. III No. 2, April/June 1983) hosts the single largest tiger population in India. This is also connected to the Biligiri-Ranganathan Temple (BRT) Tiger Reserve through the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve and the Cauvery Sanctuary. This landscape with connectivity over 5,000 sq. km. has the highest number of breeding females thus making it one of the most valuable meta populations of tigers in the world. Long-term protection accorded by the Karnataka Forest Department through effective anti-hunting measures, recovery of swampy grasslands (hadlus) and effective control of forest fires has ensured a healthy prey base crucial for supporting tiger populations. In addition, the rigorous scientific research by the Wildlife Conservation Society, conservation monitoring by advocacy groups like Wildlife First and voluntary resettlement efforts by grassroot organisations like Living Inspiration for Tribals have made Nagarahole an excellent example for other reserves to follow. Presently, the main challenges are to ensure the completion of the voluntary resettlement project, continuation of protection efforts to prevent illegal hunting, timber smuggling and commercial forest produce extraction.
Bandipur (Sanctuary Vol. XXIV No. 3, June 2004) is one of the few tiger reserves that does not have any human settlements inside its 870 sq. km. core area. It is also the first tiger reserve to get an eco-sensitive zone notification around its boundary. Though the reserve is doing well overall, thanks to the efforts of the Forest Department and various NGOs, linear intrusions in the form of the two national highways and a proposal for a railway line pose a threat to wildlife movement. Forest fires, grazing by livestock and pressures of fuelwood extraction continue to be a concern. Mushrooming of tourist resorts and the huge pressure of tourism require implementation of regulatory measures. Maintenance of anti-hunting mechanisms to counter the threat posed by illegal hunting will continue to be an important priority. Un-scientific management interventions like construction of artificial waterbodies and water harvesting pits, maintenance of wide-view lines and other earth moving activity is a matter of concern.
This reserve has received justifiable praise for its model voluntary relocation efforts. The constructive collaboration between the government and non-government agencies such as the Centre for Wildlife Studies, Wildlife First and Bhadra Wildlife Conservation Trust successfully ensured that 432 families living in villages inside the reserve voluntarily moved out. Not surprisingly, wildlife populations are recovering. However, illegal hunting, timber smuggling and mushrooming of several resorts in the immediate buffer zone are threats that need to be addressed. In 2011, a proposed windmill project was successfully stalled after a tough legal battle by local groups like Wildcat-C (page 45). Mining in the buffer of the reserve at Kemmangundi and Hogarekangiri (now closed due to legal interventions) must not be allowed to re-start.
This is an amazing forest (Sanctuary Vol. XXI No. 4, August 2001) that runs contiguous with the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka, which should by all rights also be declared a tiger reserve. The tributaries of the Kali river (page 68) originate in this forest. Human habitations have also risen with over 50 villages in the core area to the accompaniment of large-scale extraction of forest produce and illegal grazing. Dams, hydel-power generation units, diversion tunnels, mines and highways continue to fragment this strategic reserve. The loss of wildlife on account of a lack of effective anti-poaching mechanisms, is aggravated by an increase in wildlife roadkills within the reserve thanks to increased traffic density in recent years.
Temple (BRT) Tiger Reserve
This is one of India’s most recent tiger reserves, which was given the tag in January 2011. The local Soliga adivasi tribe opposed this move and instead proposed a community-based tiger conservation model. The recovery of wildlife populations in BRT actually began only after slash and burn cultivation was banned and anti-hunting measures were enforced since the 1970s. Tiger numbers have shown a rising trend despite the fact that the reserve is dotted and fragmented by human settlements, a large temple complex and large private coffee estates, some owned by leading Indian corporates. The proliferation of resorts and guest houses in private enclosures within the reserve is another serious issue. An offer for voluntary resettlement has been made to people living in the reserve and some families seem keen to accept the offer. This would undoubtedly reduce human disturbance within the forest confines. Questions are also being raised about just how sustainable the current large-scale commercial extraction of forest produce is under the community rights granted under the Forest Rights Act. The Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board’s decision to acquire agriculture land adjoining the reserve is another extremely serious issue. This tiger reserve also offers safe refuge to elephants and is an important bridge between the Western and Eastern Ghats landscapes. Tigers are breeding here and some use the forest as a transit route to travel further south and east to Sathyamangalam and the Malai Mahadeshwara hills. The reserve has a good prey base of gaur and sambar. Being a popular pilgrim destination creates a familiar set of problems for wildlife by disturbing the sanctity of the park. The National Tiger Conservation Authority has asked for unique identity numbers to be given to each tiger, to facilitate rigorous long term scientific monitoring by independent scientific institutions based on mark-recapture protocols.
Possibly one of India’s most visited tiger reserves, Periyar (Sanctuary Vol. XXVIII No. 1, February 2008) was Kerala’s only tiger reserve until the declaration of Parambikulam. Ecotourism here is handled by the Forest Department, which must be commended for ensuring that some amount of tourism revenues reach the local community. However, pilgrims to the Sabarimala temple have a negative impact on this fragile Western Ghats forest. Illegal ganja cultivation in the inaccessible reaches and some particularly unruly behaviour on the part of ill-informed tourists often distracts the forest staff from the real protection duties. Tamil Nadu’s demand to increase the height of the Mullaperiyar Dam built in 1899 would strike a body blow to the park as it would submerge some of the richest forests in the reserve. The Cumbum and Varshnad valleys, including the mountain stretch between them, require to be brought into the Protected Area network together with the proposed Meghamalai Sanctuary. In 2011, both Periyar and Parambikulam were adjudged to be among the top best-managed reserves in the country. It is time that policy makers extended more support and exhibited a greater understanding of the ecological worth of these irreplaceable forests.
The mountainous, biodiversity-rich Parambikulam reserve runs contiguous with the Anamalais in Tamil Nadu in the Nelliampathy - Anamalai terrain in the southern Western Ghats. This is an extremely popular destination for tourists who are allowed to trek here, Parambikulam is best known for its three man-made reservoirs – Peruvaripallam, Thunakadavu and Parambikulam. Lion-tailed macaques, Nilgiri tahr, elephants, leopards, tigers and even king cobras are found here, however the PA faces threats from the insidious conversion of forest into tea and coffee estates. Several large plantations are a source of pesticide run-off and human-wildlife conflict is increasing. Both the Anamalai and Parambikulam Tiger Reserves’ Forest Departments need to work in closer concert to strengthen cross-border anti-poaching and protection initiatives. Climate change is causing subtle changes in both the vegetation and in the response of insects to such changes. This is likely to have a domino effect up and down the food chain, however, little study is being done on this critical threat.
Situated in the southern end of the Western Ghats in Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts, this tiger reserve (Sanctuary Vol. VI No. 2, April/June 1986) is well-known for its potential as a source of water for three districts (including Tuticorin). It is also the home of the Nilgiri langur, lion-tailed macaque and the rare mouse deer or chevrotain. Biotic pressures exerted by colonies belonging to the State Electricity Board, tea companies, tribal hamlets, illicit mining for gemstones and pilgrims are taking a toll. The border with Kerala on the western side is vulnerable to illegal entry and activities. A pilot project aimed at conservation of biodiversity through improved park management and eco-development with the involvement of local communities has had reasonable success. But with as many as 50,000 cattle and over 100,000 humans living on the fringes of the park, the problems for this biodiversity hotspot look like they could get worse in the years ahead.
This reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXII No.1, February 2002) is the catchment and meeting point of numerous rivers and streams. Hundreds of tribals live inside the sanctuary and farming has thus far been their main source of livelihood and this naturally pits them against wild species. Major threats include poaching, commercial plantations and growth of the tribal population. The contour canal conceived in 1962 cuts through some of the finest wildlife habitats along the northern boundary of the reserve. Wild animals often fall into the canal and are washed away. Two major highways, one going through the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala and the other through the Valparai Plateau of Tamil Nadu, are responsible for a large number of roadkills.
The area of this reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXX No. 5, October 2010) is presently only 321 sq. km. However, it has the potential to be increased to approximately 600 sq. km. with the inclusion of adjacent forest areas such as Sigur and Singara forest ranges and Mukurthy National Park. The most important corridor in this landscape is the Mudumalai-Mukurthy corridor, between Naduvattam and Gudalore hill, which is still being used by elephants, gaur, sambar and tigers. This corridor needs to be secured so as to strengthen the connectivity between the Mukurthy National Park, which harbours Nilgiri tahr and the Sigur Range, which has chowsingha and blackbuck. Over 500 tribals living in the core area have expressed their keenness to move out for well over two decades and this resettlement should be done on a priority basis. Eradication and monitoring of cactus Opuntia dillenii from the eastern and southern parts of the potential 600 sq. km. reserve should be a priority. The Singara corridor should be established to benefit elephants.
Once the notorious hideout of the infamous sandalwood and ivory poacher Veerappan, this is now Tamil Nadu’s fourth tiger reserve. Located in Erode district, it is believed to be home to 18 to 25 tigers, whose home is shared by elephants and a diversity of birdlife that would do any bird sanctuary proud.
Quarries operating close to the reserve’s boundaries are a major problem. The National Green Tribunal, Southern Bench, has banned all quarrying but only time will tell whether this order will be effectively enforced. The establishment of this reserve will significantly improve the connectivity between the Western Ghats (the foothills have Mudumalai and Bandipur) and the Eastern Ghats (BRT). There is also the possibility of bringing back nilgai and chinkara in the intervening landscape. Eradication of Opuntia and control of Prosopis juliflora should be a priority. Incentive driven resettlement could help address biotic pressures. Speed breakers must be installed on the major National Highway connecting Coimbatore to Bangalore that runs through this reserve.
Photo: Niladri Sarkar.
Possibly the most famous, yet the most isolated population of tigers in India, are to be found in the largest mangrove forest in the world of the Sundarbans (Sanctuary Vol. XXVII No. 1, February 2007). Climate change poses a huge threat to both tigers and the humans that occupy this wild habitat. Deforestation, oil pollution, overfishing, prawn seed collection, reclamation, poaching, proposed nuclear reactors, a proposal for international steamer channel, sewage pollution from Kolkata, porous-border problems with Bangladesh, are only some of the myriad threats that this biodiversity vault must cope with. Ironically, this is probably one of the world’s finest breeding habitats for marine species, our failure to protect the Sundarbans will therefore have serious repercussions on India’s food security.
Several tea estates in the vicinity exert a great deal of biotic pressure. Dolomite mining has caused great damage. Poaching of wildlife as well as timber, firewood removal, illicit grazing, boulder removal from river and electric fencing also harm wildlife and fragment the forest. Demographic pressures are also huge here. The presence of human settlements within the Protected Area and border issues with Bhutan are some of the other threats that Buxa faces. Introducing a transborder triangle protection system involving West Bengal, Assam and Bhutan is an urent need.
Namdapha (Sanctuary Vol. XXIX No. 3, June 2009) is contiguous with the Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary to the north, The forests of Turung, Tengapani, Diyun to the north-west and Jairampur to the south-west. Unfortunately, all these forests suffer logging, habitat conversion to plantations and new illegal settlements. In much of the state, hunting for the pot and the wildlife trade is so commonplace as to have almost wiped out larger animals from vast tracts. The rising population of Lisus inside the reserve, and the skeletal staff of the Forest Department make for poor protection, which is aggravated by low staff morale and very poor protection infrastructure. Understandably, with an abysmal lack of effective patrolling, the prey base is very low, even though the tigers are able to take sustenance from mountain ungulates including the takin, serow and goral.
The Nature Conservation Foundation has been doing some good work here as has Phupla Singpho and his organisation SEACOW who conduct conservation education and welfare programmes in villages. Sustained efforts to work with the local Lisu tribe will help change attitudes toward hunting to supply the wildlife trade, while offering them optional livelihoods.
Till recently this dense forest was little studied. However a WII study sampled an area of 158 sq. km. with a total of 718 camera traps and obtained 10 tiger images (four individual tigers). In Pakke (Sanctuary Vol. XXX No. 2, April 2010), good protection and management measures that have won over the local Nishi community, have greatly improved security in the reserve. However, the loss of wildlife corridors is a major threat to Pakke’s wildlife. In the adjoining buffer areas of Assam, large areas are being clear felled for illegal agriculture, under the fig leaf of the Forest Rights Act. This has escalated man-animal conflict, especially crop raiding by elephants. Illegal timber operations in the adjoining Papum Reserve Forest adds to the problems of elephants and other species.
Protected jealously from the early days when the likes of E.P. Gee took up cudgels for this incredible rhino, elephant, tiger and wild buffalo haven, the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve (Sanctuary Vol. XXXII No. 5, October 2012), extends towards the Karbi Anglong Hills to Intanki towards the south. Kaziranga was once contiguous with Pakke to the north but the forests here have been replaced by agricultural fields. Intanki is nevertheless connected through fragmented forests to Balphakram National Park and onward to forests in Myanmar. Though some connectivity exists between some of these PAs, land grabs by ruthless timber and wildlife mafias, have badly damaged the landscape, with the support of some particularly unscrupulous politicians down the ages. This home to the largest number of one-horned rhinos in the world is beset by poaching problems and by seasonal floods that are aggravated by the NH-37 highway to the south, which interrupts animal movement towards the high ground of Karbi Anglong. Encroachments along the periphery of the park and the impact of migrants from Bangladesh who often routinely hunt for the pot, add to the damage caused by the loss of forest and grassland habitat. Though the Hathikuli Tea Estate (Sanctuary Vol. XXXII No. 4, August 2012) has now gone organic, other estates are a source of extremely damaging pesticide run-off. The petroleum refinery at Numaligarh and the growth of invasive weed including Mimosa are other problems that the park management struggles to overcome.
Once the pride of Assam this tiger reserve was almost totally ruined by the Bodo agitation because poaching gangs took advantage of the unrest to tear apart the forest. In the process, they killed over 100 rhinos and a number of elephants and tigers. This wildlife contraband some say helped to finance the violence that caused uncounted deaths over several years. Part of the foothills of the outer Himalaya, Manas (Sanctuary Vol. XXXII No. 1, February 2012) is a lowlying, linear wilderness that stretches between the Sankosh river to the west and the Dhansiri river in the east. The Manas river itself waters the western part of the sanctuary. Across the river, the Bhutanese Government has also established the Royal Manas Reserve. After decades of militancy, this reserve is slowly gaining its old glory. The Bodo Territorial Council has been doing good work in recent days and several poachers have laid down their weapons and have surrendered. A paucity of funds nevertheless continues to plague the park and causes delays in payments being made to the staff. This, in turn, leaves them vulnerable to inducements and worse. The park also lacks modern communication equipment and vehicles and many field posts have not been filled, leaving gaping holes in the protection mechanism. In an ideal world, Manas should have been the perfect example of cross-border protection, but this still remains a distant dream because it has been starved of both funds and political support.
Nameri in Assam is contiguous with the Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh. The swift-flowing, glacier-fed Jiya Bharoli river drains these magnificent forests, just before emptying into the Brahmaputra river. Nameri has witnessed considerable human-wildlife conflict, particularly with elephants, whose forest habitat has been ruthlessly converted to agriculture on account of human encroachments, which have been triggered by questionable claims registered in the Sonitpur district under the Forest Rights Act. The resultant deforestation along the south bank of the Jiya Bharoli river now combines with poaching and dam construction to threaten the very existence of this incredible tiger, elephant and rhino haven.
Located in west Mizoram, Dampa’s (Sanctuary Vol. XV No. 2, April 1995) main characteristic is the lack of hard boundaries – it is surrounded by fallow lands in different successional stages and by protected and unclassified forests. This allows wildlife, including tigers, to disperse between the core and buffer areas but connectivity would be greatly enhanced if Dampa was linked to the Thorangtlang Wildlife Sanctuary on the southeastern side. The western side of Dampa borders Tripura and Bangladesh. In the buffer as well as the core, hunting by local tribes for subsistence is common. Wildfires and unregulated harvesting of non-timber forest produce, shifting cultivation, crop depredation by wild pigs which adds to people-park conflict are all chronic problems. The Forest Department is hopelessly understaffed and this hampers patrolling. What is more the buffer is not yet under the unified command of the Field Director. Recently, three staff members were abducted by insurgent groups in Tripura and this has caused staff morale to plummet. During the Phase IV estimation, the NGO Aaranyak, one of the most active wildlife groups in the area, surveyed a small area and reported at least three tigers through DNA-based analysis of tiger scat. Mercifully the state government recently rejected a proposal by the Centre to fence the border with Bangladesh through Dampa, as this would have restricted wildlife movement and dealt a death blow to wild species.
The following reserves have been proposed or accepted in principle:
In-principle approved: Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), Sunabeda (Odisha), Ratapani (Madhya Pradesh) and Mukundara Hills (Rajasthan).
Proposed: Nagzira-Navegaon and Bor (Maharashtra), Mhadei (Goa), Suhelwa (Uttar Pradesh), Rajaji (Uttarakhand), Kudremukh (Karnataka) and Guru Ghasidas (Chattisgarh).
This snapshot of tiger reserves was put together by Bittu Sahgal and Lakshmy Raman with inputs from Narayan Sharma, Rohit Naniwadekar, Nandini Velho, Praveen Bhargav, Aditya Panda, Brijendra Singh, Asif and Imran Siddiqui, N.K. Raman, Joydip Kundu, Aditya Singh and Dr. A.J.T. Johnsingh.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia Vol. XXXIII No. 4, August 2013.