If the mood at the Panna Tiger Reserve is low, it’s just the opposite at Uttarakhand’s Corbett Tiger Reserve. In 2002, Corbett had 134 tigers, while in the latest round, thirty more tigers were counted. But what sets Corbett apart is the way the park authority is planning to meet the present and future challenges.
“We have a four-part agenda: Protection, management research, sustainable development and community participation,” says Rajeev Bhartari, Corbett’s director. To achieve these goals, the director has focussed on two most important elements: the forest guards and communities that stay around the park.
The most-talked about change is ensuring that forest guards give their full time for patrolling. Earlier, after a day’s hard work, guards had to cook their meals and wash their clothes, pushing up their individual expenses and amounting to precious time being lost. Now, the authorities have started a mess system in different places of the park where a cook has been provided to take care of cooking and cleaning clothes. “The whole idea is that we will take care of their needs, while they take care of animals and people,” says Bhartari.
Another innovation is long-distance patrolling. Guards are selected from different ranges and cover 10-15 kilometres per day, kitted with sleeping bags, arms and GPS. Other than patrolling, the groups specialise in ambush, and searching for sensitive locations and traps.
“Getting the community residing in the outskirts of the park involved is also extremely important because it forms a buffer against the poachers. Many of the locals had never visited the park. Now, every Thursday, we take people from different villages around the park — so that they feel part of the conservation movement,” says Bhartari. The new tiger protection force has seven squads, which has ex-servicemen and 30 villagers.