One in three tigers live outside reserves: Report
One in every three tigers in India lives outside reserves, according to a report, Status of Tigers, Co-predators and Prey in India (2018) released on Tuesday, highlighting the challenge of protecting India’s national animal and reducing instances of man-animal conflict. The proportion has increased from around the one in every four tigers living outside reserves according to a 2014 study.
India recorded a 33% increase in tiger numbers from 2014 to 2018, according to the summary of the report, All India Tiger Estimation Results, released last year. There were 2,967 tigers in India in 2018, compared to 2,226 in 2014.
Currently, the tiger population within reserves is 1,923, which means that 35% of the population is still outside tiger reserves.
No tigers were recorded in Mizoram’s Dampa and West Bengal’s Buxa tiger reserves while they face the severe threat of local extinction in Jharkhand’s Palamau reserve, according to the report. Corbett Tiger Reserve, which is among reserves at or nearing capacity, had the largest population of tigers—about 231—in 2018, the report released by Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar added.
Madhya Pradesh had the most tigers (526), followed by 524 in Karnataka and 442 in Uttarakhand. Madhya Pradesh overtook Karnataka, which recorded the highest number of tigers in 2014—406 .
The largest contiguous tiger population in the world—about 724—was found in the Western Ghats (Nagarhole-Bandipur-Wayanad-MudumalaiSatyamangalam-BRT block). The second largest— about 604—was found across Uttrakhand and western Uttar Pradesh (Rajaji-Corbett-Ramnagar-Pilibhit-Dudhwa block).
Bandhavgarh, Bandipur, Nagarhole, Mudumalai, and Kaziranga had over 100 tigers each while Dudhwa, Kanha, Tadoba, Sathyamangalam, and Sundarban had over 80 each.
Three tigers each were recorded in Dampa and Palamau and two in Buxa during the 2014 tiger estimation exercise.
“Although, no tiger images were obtained during the sampling session but Dampa Tiger Reserve is one of the important cross-boundary tiger reserves important for the tiger and other wildlife conservation by providing connectivity to other protected and forested area,” the report said. “It may be possible to reintroduce tigers in this landscape from the only source in the North-Eastern Hills and Brahmaputra Landscape i.e. Kaziranga Tiger Reserve. However, a proper protection regime and control of insurgency is required before bringing back tigers is to be considered.”
“Even in 2014 the estimate of three tigers was based on molecular work and not direct sightings or tiger signs. This time the entire park including core and buffer area was surveyed but no tigers were seen. My sense is that there were always a very low number of tigers in Dampa. To the west of Dampa there is an open border with Bangladesh. They may be moving there. But the habitat in Dampa is phenomenal and so is the diversity of felines-- marbled cats; golden cat, leopard cat etc. Forest guards are working in extremely difficult conditions but the reserve supports so much diversity possibly because of them,” said Priya Singh, an independent wildlife biologist who has focused her research on Dampa.
No tiger was recorded in Palamau Tiger Reserve, which once had a healthy population of tigers, during the 2018 assessment, according to the report. One tiger was photo captured and evidence of tiger signs was recorded from the reserve between January and August 2019.
Corbett, Kaziranga, Nagarhole, Ranthambore are among tiger reserves at or nearing capacity. Corbett has the highest density of tigers in the country— 14 per 100 sq km. This also is a challenge for habitat management, said National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) officials.
“Some reserves reaching capacity is an issue. We have to see how we can maintain carrying capacity through habitat manipulation. For example, if grasslands are managed well, they can support a good number of herbivores which in turn can support a large number of tigers,” said NTCA member secretary SP Yadav.
He emphasized the tiger estimation exercise is a snapshot and that the fact that no tigers were recorded in Dampa and Buxa mean that no tigers were seen in these reserves in 30 to 40 days when the camera trap-based estimations were carried out.
“Most of the areas where tigers are occupying the area outside reserves are well connected with the source population through migratory corridors. This is the case in the Corbett-Ramnagar region, and in central India… tigers can take care of themselves; they do not require micromanagement if they get space. For example, tigers are occupying the Ramnagar-Terai east and west area which is contiguous to Nepal. You have to provide them corridors to move and river banks should be free of encroachment,” said Anup Kumar Nayak, who was NTCA member secretary when the 2018 estimation was conducted.
Wildlife Institute of India scientist Qamar Qureshi said Palamau had its heyday when Project Tiger conservation programme was launched in the 70s. “But due to [Left-wing] insurgency, the area has not got good protection. There is too much disturbance. Buxa and Dampa had very few tigers always. But Assam and some parts of Arunachal Pradesh like the Dibang Valley have good numbers and the habitat.”