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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

‘Tiger reserves not greener than other sanctuaries’

mumbai Updated: Oct 22, 2019 01:55 IST

Vegetation in tiger reserves – accorded the highest safeguards among protected areas – across the country is drying up, with their condition not better than non-tiger reserves, says a new study by Bengaluru-based Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS India) and Google Inc.

A three-member team used satellite data to compare and analyse vegetation across 25 tiger reserves against wildlife sanctuaries (WLS) of 75sqkms or more, between 1984 and 2012. WLS are protected areas with lower safeguards than tiger reserves. Results showed that after their declaration as tiger reserves under Project Tiger initiated in the 1970s, vegetation condition declined in 13 (52%) tiger reserves, while the situation in the remaining 12 tiger reserves was better overall than their matched wildlife sanctuaries (WLS).

Similarly, an assessment of eight out of 25 tiger reserves, before and after declaration, showed that vegetation was damaged over 25% area in five tiger reserves, while three fared better overall than their matched WLSs.

Researchers said their study findings challenge the effectiveness of greater protection and management resources alone in safeguarding the long-term viability of habitats of the tiger as a threatened species. “Our results indicate that large tracts of forest vegetation in several tiger reserves may have declined in condition over the years, and their protection level elevation may not have translated into improvement in their vegetation condition,” said Pradeep S Koulgi, lead author.

Currently, there are 50 tiger reserves – one-third declared in the last 10 years – spread across 18 states and covering cover about 71,000 sq-km. Nine were declared as tiger reserves at the start of Project Tiger 1973.

“Given the financial investments, media attention and management boost that tiger reserves receive in India, it is essential that independent evaluations of not just tigers, but factors such as forest vegetation condition be conducted so that we can understand what is improving or worsening over time,” said Krithi K Karanth, chief conservation scientist at CWS, who conceived of the study and supervised the project.

The findings of ‘Extensive vegetation browning and drying in forests of India’s Tiger Reserves’ were published in Nature Scientific Reports on October 18.