Building a case for Central India’s tiger corridors
A 'resilient' species
Tiger lovers often refer to these big cats as a 'resilient' species. 'Give them some disturbance-free space which has sufficient prey. They will take care of themselves,’ is the oft heard refrain. Though a century ago, much of the Central India’s Satpuda Maikal landscape area was covered with forests where tigers roamed freely, today these magnificent cats cling to a few protected areas in this heart of India. Spread over the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, the natural wealth of this landscape has the likes of Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) and the endemic hardground barasingha (Cervus duvaucelli branderi). But the forest corridors used by tigers in the region are increasingly being threatened by activities like expansion of highways, railway lines and mining. A tiger sign survey in the Kanha-Pench corridor by WWF-India, as part of the All India Tiger Estimation Exercise in association with the, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Forest Department, has revealed the occupancy details of this critical corridor in the landscape. It has strengthened its case for conservation and raised hopes for other corridors in the landscape.
Protecting the dispersing tigers
Tigers compete for territories that have good prey density. The ones that loose the competition as well as sub-adult tigers need to move out of such territories into adjoining ones. Sometimes they move out of the tiger reserve itself and wander far away in search of other forests where they can survive. They have to do this safely while avoiding contact and conflict with humans. Hence, they use the forest cover available that connects the habitat from where they have originated to move into the other habitats.
To prevent their inbreeding and ensure their long term survival, it is important that tigers move freely between the many tiger reserves of SML. WWF-India has been working to ensure just that. About ten corridors have been identified in the SML. And, WWF-India is directly working to conserve two of the critical ones-the Kanha-Pench and Kanha-Achanakmar. Says Sunny Shah, Senior Project Officer in WWF-India's SML team “Our activities in these corridors include working with communities to help them with livelihoods that minimise their dependence on forest resources as well as provision of patrolling infrastructure to forest department officials”.
Monitoring the corridors
WWF-India helps monitor these forests and their inhabitants and one such activity was the estimation of tigers in the landscape, in 2010. The carnivore sign survey field work was carried out between May and June in the Kanha-Pench corridor. During the carnivore sign survey in the forests of South Seoni Division that lie in this corridor, the team members had a direct sighting of a tiger in May 2010. According to Jyotirmay Jena, Project Officer, WWF-India’s SML Mandla field office “Though there were reports of tigers using the corridor we did not have direct evidence of the same until this direct sighting”. Another batch of this team had a direct sighting long enough to take a few pictures of the tiger in the Rukkad forests near Pench Tiger Reserve, while installing camera traps.
Says Joseph Vattakaven, Tiger Co-ordinator, WWF-India “These sighting strengthens our conviction that these corridors are being used by tigers that spill over from the surrounding tiger reserves, namely Kanha and Pench”. The evidence of tigers using the corridor makes a strong case for the concerned authorities to do all they can to save this particular corridor and raises hope for the other corridors in the landscape. Constant monitoring of the other corridors might also reveal them being similarly used by these majestic cats. Such information would help in the long term conservation of these corridors.