By Julie Mariappan
CHENNAI: If everything goes well, Tamil Nadu will soon get its fifth tiger reserve that will include the Megamalai wildlife and Srivilliputhur Grizzled Giant Squirrel sanctuaries and Varushanadu Valley in Theni district. While the proposal was formulated by the previous UPA regime, the NDA government has reiterated its commitment to declare the tiger reserve.
In all, one tenth of the 46 tiger reserves in the country is in Tamil Nadu. Minister of state (Independent charge) for environment, forests and climate change, Prakash Javadekar in a written reply to Parliament last week said the state government has been advised to send a proposal for declaring the region as a tiger reserve. "Financial and technical help is provided to the state government under various centrally sponsored schemes, such as Project Tiger and Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats for enhancing the capacity and infrastructure for providing effective protection to wild animals," the minister said.
Following an in-principle approval by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the state created the fourth tiger reserve in Sathyamangalam in Erode district in October last year. The forest department is said to have recorded 18 big cats then. Thanks to Project Tiger, the tiger conservation measures helped the state boast of 163 big cats in 2011. The population was 53 in 1998-99. A survey by the forest department in Srivilliuputhur and Megamalai last year put the tiger population at 10 in the region.
Well-known ecologist and National Tiger Conservation Authority member Dr A J T John Singh said a management plan was available for the fifth tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu. "The state government is keen on the project and the administration is pushing for it," he told TOI, while admitting how the tiger reserve could help prevent human disturbance and enrich the biodiversity. "With the Centre's funding, we can implement protection measures, including engaging additional staff and buying equipment," he said.
T S Subramaniam of Wildlife Association of Rajapalayam, an NGO, said unchecked encroachments in the form of settlements in Megamalai and Varushanadu had led to poaching and tree-cutting as well. "If the area is declared Tiger Reserve, encroachments should be checked first," he said.
The Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary in Srivilliputhur is located adjacent to Periyar Tiger Reserve in the southwest and Megamalai Reserve Forests to the northwest. Falling in the range of Cumbum West and Uthamapalayam, the sanctuary nestles in the high ranges of Western Ghats. "Several meetings were held to push for the fifth Tiger Reserve. Besides Sivagiri, a proposal is also in the anvil to include three other forest ranges in Tirunelveli district," said a senior forest official, seeking anonymity. Talks are on with 147 villages in the region, about the need for a Tiger Reserve.
Tiger conservationists are concerned about the high number of tiger deaths in recent months. Tamil Nadu tops the list with seven deaths this year, while five deaths are still under investigation. Ajay A Desai, a consultant with the WWF India, said the emerging man-made disturbances like laying of roads, railways, mining and hydel power stations should be kept off the forests.