Yet another tiger habitat --- Palamu in Jharkhand --- is moving towards losing its native tiger population as happened in Panna and Sariska years ago.
Sariska in Rajasthan was the first tiger reserve to lose its native population by 2004 because of poaching and human-animal conflict. Five years later the same story was repeated in Panna about 500 kms south-east, in northern Madhya Pradesh.
Now, Palamu --- among the first reserves to be notified when Project Tiger came into being in 1973 --- is hit by a skewed sex ratio with one male tiger in the six big cats remaining as per the latest official count, latest DNA-scat analysis has revealed. Skewed sex ratio was one of the reasons for Panna losing its tigers.
The problem, according to local forest officials, is that of the remaining population only one is male tiger, who is also aged and incapable of breeding. “The lone tiger is about ten years old,” a senior forest government official said.
An average age of tigers is about 12 years or less and they can breed up to six to seven years. In such a circumstance, the probability of the Palamu’s male tiger copulating with any of the remaining five tigresses is very less. The additional hindrance is that there is no female big cat in Betla forest range, where the lone male tiger was traced. “It is wait and watch situation for us,” the official said, acknowledging the gravity.
Wildlife experts say population in Palamu may be lesser than estimated because two-third of the 414 sq km reserve is under control of Naxals and out of bound for the forest department officials.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had estimated 10 tigers in Palamu in 2010 without having even a single picture of a tiger. “The estimation was based on presence of (very low) prey population,” said a scientist at Dehradun based Wildlife Institute of India, which finalized the estimation. Recent attempt of the forest department to capture pictures of the tigers was foiled with Naxals taking away the camera traps resulting in an eye of suspicion over estimation.
An official said that “nobody wants to work here because of the fear of Naxals” and monitoring is being done with by “just 30 % of the required frontline staff”. The forest department is, however, convinced of low tiger density because of the falling prey population --- an indicator used to estimate tiger population.
The possible way-out --- relocation of a young male tigers to copulate with the female tigresses to preserve native tiger population --- is also not easy. Reason: Jharkhand does not have any other source of tigers within the state from relocation as Sariska and Panna had. Palamu will have to get the animal from neighbouring states such as Bihar (13 tigers), Orissa (32 tigers) or Madhya Pradesh (257 tigers). Getting approval of another state government will not be easy.
Although the situation is said to be grave in Palamu, where tiger population had come down from 44 in 1997 to six, the state forest department is yet to take a call on next possible action. “There is no proposal for relocation from Jharkhand,” a NTCA official said.