Arunachal tribe against tiger reserve
Conservationists were pleased at the spotting of 11 tigers on camera traps in the course of a recent study, but not the local Idu Mishmi tribe of the Dibang Valley Arunachal Pradesh, who fear their home will soon be declared a tiger reserve.
The animist tribe, who consider tigers their elder brothers, fears that declaring Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary (DWS) as a tiger reserve would impact their livelihood.
The influential Idu Mishmi Cultural and Literary Society (IMCLS) which represents the tribe and claims to have lived with the striped cat for generations, on December 17 wrote to the National Tiger Conservation Authority that just “because tigers are discovered in a place does not mean it must be declared a tiger reserve.”
Suggesting a new conservation paradigm, the tribal body wrote that the right strategy for the Dibang Tigers would be to develop a new kind of tiger reserve that is not built with fences and armed patrol guards, but around a cultural model, a culture so far proven to be effective in saving the tigers.”
An area of 4129 sqkm of the 9129 sqkm Dibang Valley is designated as Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary (DWS) but has not yet been named a tiger reserve.
“As it (the designated area) is a large part of the Dibang Valley, it is designated a sanctuary. If they designate the remaining area as a tiger reserve too, where will we live and where will we farm?” asked IMCLS president Ginko Linggi.
The 2014 tiger census reported 201 tigers in the northeastern hills and the Brahmaputra plains, out which five were reported in DWS, which extends over the Mishmi hills.
GV Gopi, a scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India who carried out the study along with research scholar Aisho Sharma Adhikarimayum, said as many as 11 tigers were caught on camera traps from 2015 to 2017. The paper titled “First Photographic Record of Tiger Presence at Higher Elevations of the Mishmi hills in the Eastern Himalayan Biodiversity Hotspot, Arunachal Pradesh, India” was published in the journal “Threatened Taxa” in November and documents the presence of tigers at an altitude of 3,630 metres.
“Considering we could cover only 336 sqkm of the 4,149 sqkm of the DWS, even 11 tigers indicate a high density. We are certain that the actual population will be much higher, when we cover the entire area in the next phase of our study,” Gopi said.
The letter by IMCLS has also raised questions on Gopi’s study. It claims that the study does not mention how many tigers were found inside the sanctuary and in community forests.
The IMCLS letter also cites another study by co-author of the letter and research scholar Sahil Nijhawan, which had estimated a tiger density of 0.804 individuals/100 km2 in community forests and 0.177 individuals/100 km2 in the sanctuary. “The tiger density in community forests is therefore nearly 4.5 times that of the sanctuary,” the letter read.
Nijhawan, an anthropologist and ecologist who has been studying the Idu Mishmis and the Dibang valley said the fears of the community were legitimate since they were not consulted when the sanctuary was declared. “They are still confused about the boundaries of the sanctuary. They should be consulted before any decision is made,” he said.
Linggi said the area was badly connected by road and saw scant tourist inflow but with connectivity improving after the DholaSadiya bridge in Assam’s Tinsukia, the number of tourist footfalls is slowly increasing. “Designation of the area as a tiger reserve would come in the way of livelihood opportunities for locals. One may want to build a hotel or a tourist lodge,” he said.