By Vijay Pinjarkar
NAGPUR: Even though we may celebrate increased number of tigers in the country, there is disturbing news on conservation front. A report released by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, says that tiger occupancy area in the country shrunk by 12,000 sq km, or more than three times the area of entire Goa state (3702 sq km), in the four years ending 2010.
The latest technical guide for 'monitoring tigers, co-predators, prey and their habitats' states tiger occupany area was reduced from 94,000 sq km in 2006 to 82,000 sq km in 2010 across the tiger-bearing states. This has happened even as number of tigers has gone up from 1,411 in 2006 to 1,706 in 2010.
It means more tigers are living in substantially less area which has troublesome implications for the flagship wildlife species of the country. "The increase in tiger numbers shows good management of tiger reserves and protected areas but it has lost ground in connecting corridors, where estimation was done," said a NTCA official seeking anonymity.
Rampant poaching of tigers is also one of the reasons why it has disappeared from large swathes. In Maharashtra, it is only now that large-scale poaching was come to fore after the arrest of Baheliya poachers last year. It was going on unchecked for the last seven years. Had there been better protection in non-sanctuary areas, many more tigers could have survived.
Kishor Rithe, former member of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), attributed the fall in occupancy area to fragmented habitats and encroachments because of Forest Rights Act (FRA).
"There are still many potential wildlife areas of 5 to 7 hectares with revenue and forest department in patches that are used by wildlife during night, but are getting lost to projects and extension of agriculture practices. Such areas are being fenced blocking smooth movement of animals," said Rithe.
"Once habitat is lost, it is almost impossible to claim them back for wildlife. Besides, nobody wants to talk about corridors, that are lifelines for individual tiger populations to survive for the long-term. Poaching can wipe out individual populations but these can be re-established," Rithe said.
"The number of tigers going up in less area increases chances of tigers coming in conflict with people. We have been witnessing it in Chandrapur district and hence protecting corridors is the only solution," said Bandu Dhotre, chief of Eco-Pro, a NGO working to save wildlife in Chandrapur.
The loss in occupancy area is despite the fact that NTCA generated information at tehsil level which had resulted in resulted in major changes in policy and management of tiger populations, said officials.
"The major outcome of our exercise in 2006 had led to formulation of tiger landscape conservation plans, buffer areas, declaration of new tiger reserves, recognition of tiger landscapes among host of other issues," they said.
TIGERS LOSE GROUND
* An officials report says tiger occupany areas decreased by 12,000 sq km, more than three times the size of Goa, in 4 years
* Reasons: Poor protection, habitat destruction, fragmentation of connectivity, human disturbance, major roads, human and livestock trails, encroachments, forest fires, biotic pressure, rampant poaching, poor prey base
* Consequences: More man-animal conflict, territorial conflict among tigers, destruction of gene pool, loss of forest cover
* What must be done: Enhanced public and political support for conservation, check on encroachments, habitat restoration, better protection of corridors and non-protected areas, ban on felling practices, control on grazing and human presence in forest areas, implementing eco-development schemes for corridor villages