Pilibhit tiger reserve offers more space to the big cats

Pilibhit tiger reserve offers more space to the big cats

Pilibhit Tiger Reserve (PTR) lying in the foothills of western Himalayas in Uttar Pradesh on Indo-Nepal border is the latest tiger reserve to be constituted in India becoming the 41st in the growing list of tiger reserves.

Although the National Tiger Conservation Authority had cleared the above proposal as early as 2008 itself, it was only recently that the UP government finally notified it in fulfilment of its long standing desire to compensate the loss of Corbett to Uttarakhand in the year 2000.

PTR with around 800 sq km area is the second tiger reserve of the state after Dudhwa and  would consist of Terai — bhabhar forests of four districts —Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheri, Bahraich and Shazahanpur with bulk of its a core area lying in the first three named districts and one range in  the last named constituting its buffer.

Apart from the big cats which are reported to number around 35, there are good number of leopards and sufficient prey base in the forests of the reserve with unique eco-bio diversity ranges consisting mostly of beautiful Sal forests.

The entire reserve is one of the most important habitats of the tiger in the Terai region.

So when an opportunity came my way recently to visit a part of the above tiger reserve, I could not resist the temptation and soon enough I was there.

It was good to be back to Sal forests of Tarais of UP after a few decades of working in some of the best forests of southern part of the country.

Even though UP has lost its significant hilly forest areas to Uttarakhund, the region in Tarai and lower foothills of mighty Himalaya all along Nepal border is still full of thick forests dominated by the majestic Sal, supporting good biodiversity and considerable wild life including tiger.

The unique swamp dear habitat is also found in the neighbouring Kisangani sanctuary. A drive through these forest areas gives an altogether different high.

We started our journey from ever expanding and chaotic yet charming and attractive capital Lucknow by road, which surprisingly were good and reached the base camp of Lakhimpur-Kheri, an otherwise non-descript district but made famous by its vast sugar growing fields and of course the famous Dudhwa tiger reserve.

We had hoped to be able to visit it during our sojourn to various forest areas selected for us by our gracious hosts –the local forest officials.

But as it turned out it was not to be due to hectic pace and unscheduled visits...though we had a good glimpse and drive through long stretches of Sal forests which is typical of the remaining forest terrain in the region.

The reserve is bordering Nepal and has two important rivers supporting its flora and fauna, Sharda and the mighty Ghagra.

Incidentally Sharda river supports at least one-third population of UP with its numerous ever flowing canal systems.

Locating the big cats

The reserve is surrounded by one of the most fertile lands supporting crops of predominantly paddy and sugar, the later acting as perfect camouflage for escaping tigers from the nearby forests which has been reported frequently.

And when these tigers come to sugar fields it is well nigh impossible to locate them easily.

Ask the local authorities who are literally on their toes due to numerous such intrusions by tigers.

One such tiger (which proved to be tigress on capture) had been playing hide and seek in the region for two weeks preceding our visit in the second week of March and as if to complement the excitement of our visit came the news that the local forest officials had managed to tranquilise and capture the above maundering tigress which had been terrorising local villagers with number of cattle killings and had also killed one man.

This operation was not without its agonising moments of the last two weeks during which she remained elusive only to be finally trapped in a sugar cane field when it could be captured and subsequently released in Dudhwaa.

The courage and unflinching guts shown by two female departmental elephants was key in above operation being successful after earlier less experienced elephants had simply been blown away by the big roar and ferocious lunge at them by the tigress who was found to be just around two and a half year old and measured around 2 metres.

In fact one of the female elephants which had run away in earlier failed attempt to capture the tigress was found almost 24 hours later in Plibhit forests which are a good 100 and odd km away.

Such was the power and ferocity of the tigress. While one felt deeply empathetic with local villagers for the problems they faced, we were left marvelling at this majestic king (queen in this case) of the jungle for its sheer power, strength and surrounding awe...

PTR and Dudhwa Tiger Reserve  land scape are reported to have around 120-130 tigers and along with Corbett Landscape constitute biggest surviving viable population of Terai tigers which is facing serious poaching issue due to vicinity of International borders with Nepal and China.

All efforts need to be made to conserve this extremely important species.

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