Tigers seem not at home in MP’s Ratapani sanctuary as they are spotted frequenting farms and places close to Bhopal, with one of them being captured in Shajapur district, about 150 km from Bhopal on Tuesday, in an area bereft of forests.
Though the sanctuary, which has been vying for a tiger reserve status, is big enough at 907 sq km to host the 25-30 tigers counted during the 2014 census, it appears to be failing at that.
Forest department sources said that though Ratapani has been a sanctuary since 1976 and has enjoyed more protection than regular forest areas, the natural prey base for tigers has not been healthy. Therefore, tigers go hunting for cattle in nearby villages.
To top it, there are 32 villages inside the sanctuary, which step up the biotic pressure on the habitat. There are also two prominent highways on two sides of the sanctuary, leading to frequent incursions.
“Unless we strengthen protection measures at the sanctuary, move villages away and check commercial activity around the sanctuary which disturbs the habitat, tigers will be forced to wander out in search of prey,” said a forest department official on condition of anonymity.
While ideally, the forest department should work to ensure that forest areas outside sanctuaries and national parks also have tiger populations, each time there is a report of a tiger outside Ratapani, it is captured and released in another tiger reserve.
A tiger that had entered the agriculture engineering institute at Nabibagh was caught and released in Panna, while another that was spotted in Shajapur district was caught and released in Satpura. Further, plans that had been made to capture the tigers often seen in the Kerwa and Kaliasot forests on the outskirts of Bhopal have not been successful yet.
However, the state forest department defends its decision to capture straying tigers.
“We examine the need to capture and release on a case-to-case basis, “said additional principal chief conservation of forests (APCCF) wildlife, RP Singh.
“The tiger at Nabibagh had entered a human habitation and the tiger in Shajapur was in a habitat that cannot support a tiger and hence had to be rescued and released in a safe habitat. But in cases where a tiger is found a protected and safe forest area, it will not be captured.”