By Vijay Pinjarkar
Nagpur: 'Walk in the tiger steps', a 130km trek for seven days between Kanha and Pench tiger reserves through forest corridors turned out to be a big hit with support pouring in from the grassroots for conserving wildcats.
At least 50 participants from across the country led by Chittaranjan Dave, landscape coordinator from World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), roughed it out in the jungles walking through one of the most celebrated corridors providing connectivity for wildlife between two important source tiger populations from November 23 to 29. "We were successful in creating socio-political awareness on the need for securing tiger habitats outside the protected areas by drawing attention of locals and national and global conservation community," Dave said after the seven-day event.
The walk started on November 23, after a small talk by Dave and Kanha field director JS Chauhan. Talking to TOI, Chauhan, who himself walked for two days, welcomed the move. "It was really amazing. You must see it to believe it. The corridor is more beautiful than you visualize it on seeing the map. It still has rich floral and faunal diversity."
Chauhan said there was enough evidence of tiger presence in the corridor and to protect it, local communities must be enlisted . "We identified 43 villages that have weak corridor links. Community development will be taken up in these villages under an integrated plan," he said. "During the trail, villagers largely voiced concern about losing their ancestral home if they are relocated from the corridor. Participants and forest officials cleared their doubts and assured them that no such plan existed," said SK Rada, sarpanch of Behrai. Rada was happy with the awareness walk.
"We succeeded in conveying the message to the people during village meetings. We not only cleared their doubts but also requested them to protect forest and wildlife in their vicinity," said Ashish Kachwaha from Khatiya near Kanha. Participants learnt about forestry operations and protection measures in the corridor and enjoyed interaction with Balaghat CCF Pushkar Singh, who joined the walk with his staff. On the trek, he showed one of the oldest teak plantations in Central India where a teak tree with 4.7 metre girth is still surviving.
"Such events will help forest department consolidate effort to address community issues and simultaneously protect corridor forest from illegal activities," said Singh. On arriving at Sonawani, he offered refreshments to all the walkers. During night halts, WWF team organized food and movie shows through which villagers were asked to support tiger conservation efforts in all possible ways. "Huge crowd enjoyed wildlife movies and participated in the following discussions," said Singh.
On November 29, field director of Pench Sanjay Shukla and deputy director Kiran Bisen and others joined the trek. They interacted with participants and declared their support. "There can be no better attempt than this to make people aware of need for tiger conservation," said Shukla and Bisen.
Dr Nayeem Khan, a city-based radiologist, and Sarfaraz Ahmed, an assistant professor with IGGMC, who trekked 17km in four hours towards the end point from Sakata-Chandarpur-Rukhad, dubbed it as a thrilling experience. "We saw a variety of birds and heard calls of wild. You rarely get such a chance to explore the forest," they said. On the occasion, WWF donated a school van for the children of frontline staff of Kanha posted in the reserve.