Kumbhalgarh, Todgarh sanctuaries unsuitable for viable tiger populations: NTCA
JAIPUR: A National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) report has ruled out the possibility of declaring Rajasthan’s Kumbhalgarh and Todgarh-Raoli wildlife sanctuaries as a tiger reserve to decongest the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve saying their landscape is unsuitable to hold viable big cat population.
In the report, retired Indian Forest Service officers RN Mehrotra and NK Vasu, NTCA Tiger Cell scientist Kausik Banerjee, and additional inspector general (NTCA) Hemant Kamdi pointed out the length of the proposed tiger reserve is about 200-220 km. It added its width varies between 3 to 15 km (average width 6.5 km), which would make it difficult to confine tigers and other wildlife within the boundary of the proposed reserve.
“And, this may escalate the likelihood of human-wildlife conflict in the adjoining landscape,” said the report, a copy of which HT has seen.
The report has recommended a critical tiger habitat by creating a core of at least 800-1,000 sq km (with a minimum width of 15-20 km) by including areas from both Kumbhalgarh and Todgarh-Raoli wildlife sanctuaries. It added the habitat should comprise inviolate areas without human pressure with ample prey base so that it can sustain at least 20 breeding females in the long term. The report called for urgent action for “incentivised voluntary” relocation of human settlements from within both the sanctuaries.
“The entire landscape [including the proposed Tiger Reserve] is interspersed with an unmitigated network of national and state highways, district roads and, a medium gauge railway track. These might pose a serious threat to an establishing tiger population in the proposed tiger reserve,” the report said.
On green corridors, the report said the proposed tiger reserve is an isolated patch of forest with no connectivity with Ranthambhore, which has the only tiger source population in the state. “So, the only way to populate the reserve would be through translocation and soft release,” the report said.
Ranthambore had 79 tigers in July 2021 when the state forest department conducted the last estimation.
Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary (610.52 sq km) and Todgarh-Raoli Wildlife Sanctuary (495.27 sq km) are spread over Ajmer, Pali, Rajsamand, and Udaipur districts in the Aravalli Hills. Officials said Tigers lived in the forests of Kumbhalgarh and the adjoining regions such as Roopnagar, Dewair, Phulwari Ke Nal till the 1960s before they were wiped out due to hunting.
The report said the major portion (approximately 60%) of the proposed tiger reserve and adjoining landscape have moderate to steep slopes making the effective area available for tigers much less than the total proposed area. It said the rugged terrain may play an important role as potential leopard refuge patches in presence of tigers in the landscape in the future.
The report said the current prey abundance in both Todgarh-Raoli and Kumbhalgarh was low to support a viable tiger population and a decline has also been reported during the past two decades.
Mehrotra said the proposed area is surely a good habitat for the tigers but the government should work on implementing their recommendations to convert the forest into a tiger reserve, which will not only be beneficial for the big cats but people in the longer run. He said the recommendations are doable.
Mehrotra said the state government needs to consolidate and merge adjoining revenue land to increase forest area. “It is a good forest area but degraded with time and can be rejuvenated.”
Chief wildlife warden Arindam Tomar said the report has been sent to the government for a decision.
Member of Parliament (Rajsamand) Diya Kumari, who is an NTCA member, urged Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and the environment minister Hemaram Choudhary to take action on the report so that the wildlife sanctuaries can be declared a tiger reserve.
In July 2021, Ramgarh Vishdhari Sanctuary in Bundi was declared as the fourth Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Sawai Madhopur), Alwar’s Sariska Tiger Reserve, and Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve in Kota are the other three tiger reserves in the state.