Protecting the big cat

Protecting the big cat

There are lessons to be learnt by tiger reserves in the country, including Karnataka, from habitat improvement and eco development works at the Pench Tiger Reserve, says B K Singh.

Pench National Park of Madhya Pradesh comprises of two protected areas, Indira Priyadarshini Pench National Park extending over 293 sq km and Pench Mowgli sanctuary extending over 118 sq km.

Thus, the critical tiger habitat of this reserve is 411 sq km. In addition, 768 sq km areas from South Seoni, East Chhindwada and South Chhindwada forest divisions are notified as buffer zones of Pench Tiger Reserve in October, 2010.

Together with Pench Tiger Reserve of Maharashtra (256 sq km), the core and buffer areas of this tiger reserve forms a unique habitat for tigers, co predators and prey animals. 

The main objective of the management of the tiger reserve is to protect the area and to provide site-specific habitat inputs for a viable population of tigers and other animals, without distorting the natural prey-predator ecological cycle and to conserve the ecological integrity and interspersion of various habitats and their associated fauna, so as to maintain the genetic diversity in perpetuity.

Core area of the tiger reserve is generally flat top plateaus with valleys and occasionally hilly.

Pench has a mosaic of dense woodlands with ground cover, open woodlands with luxuriant ground cover, open forest with weeds, degraded forests with ground cover, relocated village sites and artificially created 54.5 sq km submergence of Totladoh Dam.

Except 20 per cent of core area demarcated for tourism purpose, the remaining areas are free from human and cattle disturbance.

 Six villages of the core area,  Kandli, Sapat, Piyorthadi, Palaspani, Umarighat and Chhindewani were relocated by irrigation department in 1990, at the time of construction of Totladoh Dam.

There after, only two villages Alikatta and Chhediya remained, which were relocated in 1992-93 by forest department. In due course, the areas of relocated villages, their agriculture fields, pasture land and old cattle camps were developed into grasslands with various species of grass. 

Due to rapid increase in herbivorous population especially spotted deer, these areas are being over-used and weeds have come up. Due to over grazing by large number of herbivores, the area does not get sufficient time for development of grass rhizomes.

To reverse the trend of deteriorating grasslands, the management of tiger reserve have been providing chain link fencing for nearly one or two months during July and August every year. Sometime in August, chain link fence is opened duly retaining fence posts to remove all the  weeds.

The above operation of removal of weeds and chain link fencing during July and August have been religiously carried for the past four years and has yielded very good results.

All these grasslands harbour a large number of herbivore population and present a wonderful sight for visitors. Tiger Reserve management of other states can find a very good example in Pench. 

Eco-development 

Much before the buffer zone of tiger reserve was brought under unified command, the management of tiger reserve had focused on an India eco-development programme in 25 villages, out of total 107 villages located on the fringes of this reserve.

 The families in these villages were provided with gobar gas plants and some funds for the development of the village. 

In last two to three years, additional 45 number of these villages were taken up under the programme, where communities were provided with double cylinder connection, healthcare, education and awareness.

With the help of Satpura Foundation, skills like stitching, embroidery, cosmetics and telly software for accounting were imparted. 

These villages were also called in for awareness programmes of wildlife conservation. Wildlife weeks were celebrated up to range level, involving all the concerned villages.

Special outings into the core tiger habitats were also undertaken  for the village community members.

Cattle grazers, who move on the fringes of the tiger reserve and some times in the buffer zone were given special packages consisting of umbrellas, water bottles and  torches and were trained for gathering intelligence with regard to illicit cutting of trees and poaching.

They were also asked to ensure that cattle do not enter the core areas of the tiger reserve.

It has been recently reported that the core areas of tiger reserve are free from all cattle disturbances.

In many sensitive patches, stone walls are built to prevent the straying of wild animals, such as wild Boar and Chital. During a visit to Karaiga village on March 5, it was found that the dependency of village communities on the adjoining forest has been reduced to one fourth than what it used to be five years back. 

Sadly, crop damage compensation cases are dealt by revenue department of Madhya Pradesh administration.

Whenever wild animals stray out, villagers lose crop and compensation payments are delayed.

Sometimes, revenue department is rigid in interpreting the guidelines for assessing the damage.

During our interaction in the village, we were informed that the villagers would have got a better deal, if forest department handled the cases. 

By and large, there is a very good relation between the community and the park management, which goes a long way in addressing conservation of forests and wildlife.

The fact that there were no human deaths reported during last three years also proves the good relations.

Safari for villagers 

Other habitat improvement works, such as creation and maintenance of water holes, dykes in the backwater spread of Totladoh reservoir, maintenance of road for accessibility and patrolling was found to be useful and praise worthy.

Even when the water in the reservoir recedes due to summer and intensive power generation,  the water impounded in the dyke is always available to wild animals. 

Park management were also advised to be more scientific while desilting a water hole. In some cases, the edge of the water hole was found to be vertically cut, where as the edge should have been gently sloping.

Sometimes, while desilting, earth cutting was done very close to the tree, there by exposing its roots.

In several instances of road maintenance in the past, borrow pits were dug on either side of the road haphazardly.

Desilting of side drains were ignored, resulting in frequent damage of the road.

However, there is improvement noticed in the maintenance of roads in the recent past. Hopefully, all the obstacles will be overcome in due course of time. 

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