The 400-sq km Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, one of the few sanctuaries in India with a growing tiger population, is set to expand with the addition of four villages whose human population will be relocated. "We want to give more space to the tigers.
"At the initial phase we are ready to add nearly 250 hectares of land now occupied by the four villages," said Sudarshan Sharma, assistant conservator of forest of the Ranthambore National Park. We have sent a proposal to the government to relocate four villages - Mordungri, Indala, Bhid and Kathula - to a nearby district. We have asked the government to provide them original (area of ) land plus one hectare to every family," Sharma said.
Sanctuary authorities have suggested giving at least 1.6 hectares of land to each landless family, he said.
The villages are home to over 590 families and all of them rely on agriculture and cattle rearing to earn their livelihood. Sharma said the relocation site for two villages had been identified in Tonk district, around 40 km from their current location.
Sharma, who has been serving in the national park for the last nine years, was in the capital to participate in a signature campaign to highlight the need for tiger conservation across India.
In its partial tiger report released earlier this year, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), a body of the India's environment and forest ministry, had recorded that there are only 490 tigers in the 16 reserves of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. The 2002 census had recorded 1,233 tigers in these states.
But in the Ranthambore National Park, the tiger population has gone up from 26 to 32 within the last two years. Out of the 32 tigers, five are male, 18 are female and the rest are cubs. Though a government survey in 2002 had reported 35 tigers in the park subsequent incidents of poaching reduced the tiger population in the park.
The national park is part of the 1,334 sq km Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. But authorities said that tiger movement is limited to nearly 400 sq km landscape of the national park. Out of the four villages, Indala is inside the park and the rest are in the periphery.
Elaborating on the need for expansion, Sharma claimed that 32 tigers needed more space to live in a natural environment and that human habitation in and around the park was interfering in the day-to-day life of wild animals.
"Besides human interference, the cattle population also poses a threat to the park. It's a wildlife versus cattle situation. Moreover, the cattle are capable of spreading disease among our animals and once that happens, it would be difficult to treat the wild animals," he pointed out.
He said there are around 100,000 cattle around the national park. Villagers come to the park for grazing their cattle and poachers sometimes enter the forest areas with them.
"Four cases of poaching have been reported by our officials in the last four years, of which three were reported in 2005 alone," said Sharma.