From lax patrolling and invasive human habitation to deadly territorial battles and changing prey base, a range of threats is contributing to the increasing number of tiger deaths in Bandhavgarh reserve, which has the country’s highest density of big cats, a new report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has said.
Tigress Kankati and her three cubs at Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. A few weeks after these photos were taken by HT, the tigress and two cubs died in a territorial fight. (Neeraj Santoshi/HT photo)
Over the past five years, some 16 tigers have died in Bandhavgarh, mostly from territorial fighting among tigers as well as poaching, leaving wildlife experts and activists worried about the future of the animals in what is considered among the safest sanctuaries for tigers in India.
The killing of two tigresses earlier this year, including a radio collared tigress in Bandhavgarh prompted the NTCA to ask its regional office in Nagpur to look into the cause of growing tiger deaths in the reserve.
The report, which was submitted to NTCA recently, paints a grim future for big cats in Bandhavgarh.
Among other causes, the report, a copy of which is available with HT, pointed out that "there is no mechanism of ensuring daily patrolling by the beat guards in buffer area."
Listed glaring instances of inadequacies and mismanagement, it found field staff, including even range officers, were unaware of advisories issued by the NTCA as far back as 2012.
The NTCA supervisory checks and field review mechanism for efficient patrolling were found to be missing in the buffer area and not visible even in some core areas like Panpatha and Pataur.
The findings have rattled wildlife experts, who welcomed the effort to find out the reasons for growing tiger deaths but called for quick remedial action.
"First we want deployment of a special tiger force there to ensure strict check on poaching and a CBI inquiry into past tiger killings in the reserve, so as to fix responsibility," said Activist Ajay Dubey, who filed an RTI application for a copy of the NTCA report.
"Otherwise all this paper work and rhetoric makes no sense."
The report said that in the buffer area, barring very few places, there was hardly any system of daily patrolling along power transmission lines or water holes. No records had been maintained and daily activities of field staff could not be monitored, the report points out.
Tiger panel report paints grim picture for Bandhavgarh big cats. (HT photo)
Other causes enumerated in the report included the large number of cattle predation in buffer area, restricted movements of wild prey in the southern core due to physical barriers like fencing and probably also changed predator-prey dynamics in core and buffer.
One of the reasons for increased big cat deaths included fierce territorial battles among tigers.
Bandhavgarh reserve field director CH Murlikrishnan ascribed the cause of such battles to a high density of tigers. The reserve has about 70 tigers.
"In Tala range area of the reserve, which is spread over 110 sq kms, there are around 38 tigers, while capacity of that area is around 11 to 12 tigers," he told HT.
"Because of this there are fierce territorial fights due to which tigers die. We have proposed that each year around three tiger pairs should be shifted from this reserve to some other reserve."
Acknowledging that poaching was a real threat, he said that there were many gangs active in the reserve.
"Because of our efforts, there is no large scale poaching. I don’t think the poaching can be brought to zero here given the tiger-human-interface," he said.
"This year alone, there were 1,317 cattle kills and 89 human injuries due to tigers."
Recommendations of the report
- Considering the future threat to tigers, deploying special tiger protection force should be considered by the state
- There is an urgent need of complete revamp in the existing patrolling and monitoring system in the buffer area and the Panpatha sanctuary
- Immediate preparation of security plan, identifying and monitoring 11 kv power lines and 415 -440 v temporary connections near villages bordering the tiger territory
- Monitoring water holes used by tigers through effective foot patrolling with very stringent checks and review mechanism be ensured
- Establish and strengthen anti-poaching camps in the buffer area should on the priority
- An attempted poaching by electrocution or poisoning should be registered as an offence and investigated thoroughly so as to prevent the actual tragedy in future.