Tiger reserves in areas with heavy Naxalite presence and influence are the country’s worst, according to the Wildlife Institute of India’s latest tiger census report that has recorded a sharp fall in tiger population.
The reason for the fall in the number of tigers in these reserves can be anything — from poaching to loss of habitat, it said.
Qamar Qureshi, WII’s chief tiger census investigator, said the tiger reserves in Naxal-affected Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa have fared poorly. “They are suffering because of Naxalism,” he said.
An official of WII said forest officials in the three states have almost acceded control of the reserves to Naxalites. Five reserves — Indravati, Palamau, Saranda, Valmiki and Simlipal — are in huge contiguous forest areas, making it impossible for the thinly armed forest staff to move in, the official added.
The 34,000-sq km Indravati reserve in Chhattisgarh, identified by WII as a “vital tiger reserve”, is now controlled by rebels. The reserve may be having tigers left in single digit as compared to 29 in 2001 census. “The figures are as per the local estimation. No census was done because of the Naxals,” a WII investigator said.
The fall in the numbers is clearly visible from the population estimation in Similipal (Orissa) and Valmiki (Bihar-Nepal border). Similipal has only 20 tigers against 99 in 2001. Valimiki has 10, down from 53 in 2001. Qureshi said conservation in these reserves is not working because of the Naxal threat, a charge Orissa government has refuted.
Jharkhand, which has 1,488 sq km of forests with habitat to support tigers, is in total disarray. The Palamau reserve, which had 32 tigers in 2001, did not report any tiger sign in the first phase of the census. “No further investigation was done because the state government's data was not amenable for the census report,” Qureshi said.
Rajesh Gopal, member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, estimated that the tiger density would range between 0.5 and 1.5 tigers for 100 sq km in most Naxal-affected reserves. “The tigers may have suffered due to direct poaching, loss of quality habitat or loss or prey,” Gopal said.
An official of WII rated Jim Corbett, Bandipur and Kanha tiger reserves as the best. “These reserves have good prey base and a healthy supporting forest corridors to allow expansion of tiger population,” Qureshi said.