It was a year of despair and a year that turned things around too. In the history of Madhya Pradesh’s Panna Tiger Reserve, 2009 will be remembered as the year the big cats went missing. A nation-wide estimate in 2006 — the first one to use the more scientifically accurate camera trap system of counting instead of the earlier total pug mark count method — had already revealed a dwindling tiger count in the forest. "Over the next few years, the number continued to drop, till alarmed by reports of no tiger sightings, the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the state government decided to conduct a count only for Panna in 2009. It revealed what many had already feared — the tiger count in the forest had indeed dropped to zero," says R Sreenivasa Murthy, field director, Panna. The authorities panicked. But instead of giving in to despair, they decided to act. A special team was constituted to bring the big cats back to Panna and Murthy was one of those who joined. "Six tigers were brought here from other reserves within Madhya Pradesh as part of a reintroduction programme. In the following years, 32 cubs were born at Panna, of which 26 survived. Poaching was stopped," he says. Now, according to the 2014 count, the reserve has over 17 adult and sub-adult tigers.
How Periyar Saved Its Big Cat Population
By Kumkum Dasgupta
The Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Kerala is one of most-feted tiger reserves in India. One of the main reasons for this is PTR’s people-oriented and park-centered conservation and ecotourism programmes that the forest department runs with the help of eco-development committees (EDCs). Earlier this month, the 925-sq km reserve, home to about 40 tigers, bagged the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA) award for encouraging local public participation in its management. In 2012, PTR, situated in the Cardamom Hills and Pandalam Hills of the southern Western Ghats, won the UN-India Biodiversity Governance award for holistic management strategies. “The work with the EDCs — local communities are its members — started almost 10 years ago. We keep adding and deleting programmes depending on results,” says Sanjayan Kumar, deputy director of PTR. The reserve has also been identified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests as a ‘Field Learning Centre’. “This recognition came as a result of the PTR being designated a centre of excellence for successfully implementing the India Eco-Development Project (IEDP),” added Kumar. The goal of IEDP was the conservation of bio-diversity through people’s participation.
In India, protected areas (PA) can never be ‘exclusive’ because people live in and around them. This population is rural, poor and dependent on the resources of the PA. Ecodevelopment programmes, like the ones in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, aim at conserving the bio-diversity by addressing both the impact of local people on the PAs and the impact of the PAs on local people.
“I am a supporter of people-centred conservation around our national parks and PAs. PTR is the best example of how locals can engage in a larger mission. India is very different from region to region and each area requires its own site-specific intervention outside the boundary of the PAs,” explained Valmik Thapar.
He added that local people on the edges of PAs must be encouraged to create “wildlife conservancies” in order to benefit from tourism. “In some areas, there should be engagement of locals with decision making in order to create genuine partnerships that can benefit wildlife and boost local economies,” said Thapar, who is working on a book on the issue. The PTR has 78 EDCs in three categories: hamlet, user group and professional. With hamlet EDCs, investment goes into building community assets like schools. User-group EDCs are for people like graziers, who depend on resources within the PTR. Professional EDCs are groups who have developed tourism skills and now generate a regular income from the forest. “The inclusive agenda of involving local people has been innovatively addressed in the PTR. It has institutionalised this and is a role model for others,” former NTCA chief Rajesh Gopal said.