Spurt in Bihar's tiger population

In 2008, a tiger was found dead in the Madanpur range of Valmiki Nagar forest in Bagaha district.

 There was a nationwide clamour to save the dwindling species. A team of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) was dispatched there to take stock of the situation and asked to suggest remedial measures. 

Six years later, the joint efforts of central and state agencies have borne fruit. From merely eight in 2006, the number of tigers in Bihar’s Valmiki Nagar forest area has gone up to 22. About 380 km from Patna, Valmiki Nagar Tiger Project,  Bihar’s only Tiger Reserve,  is also home to rhinoceros and crocodiles.

According to the census conducted in 2006 (using the camera-trap method), the number of tigers was around 8. In August 2008, a tiger was killed after it got entangled in a trap laid by poachers in Naurangia village in Madanpur. 

Situated on the Indo-Nepal border, it was suspected that the poachers from Uttar Pradesh, dealing in tiger skin and organs, which are in high demand in the international market, especially in China, entered Madanpur through Nepal and killed the dwindling species.

The incident was first reported by a local who had met some women going to the forest area to collect firewood. They told him that they had seen some people trying to dispose of the carcass of a tiger. As the suspicion grew, the nearby villagers informed the forest department officials, who, in turn, reached the spot. By that time the alleged poachers had disappeared, but the carcass had been partially buried. 

Since no incident of man-tiger confrontation has ever been reported from the area, the forest department officials ruled out the possibility of locals’ hand in the killing of the tiger. 

Valmikinagar is nearly 100 km from Bettiah, the northernmost district of Bihar, sharing border with Nepal. From Bettiah, one has to go to Bagaha and cover 30 km from Bagaha to enter the Valmiki Tiger reserve forest at Rampur. In the dense jungle, one can see the steep ravines and knife-edge ridges. The nearly 30 km road runs through the forest leading to Gandak barrage.   

The great Gandak and Masan rivers collect all the water from numerous tributaries. Valmiki sanctuary spread over about 900 sq km  is the 18th tiger reserve of the country. It was ranked fourth when there were only eight tigers. Now with the fresh piece of information that the VTR has 22 tigers, its ranking would alter in the days to come. 

“Earlier, tigers in the reserve zone were counted on the basis of pugmarks – an old method. But the government has installed cameras to capture their movement and count tigers with more accuracy,” said Bihar’s Forest and Environment minister PK Sahi, elated over the quantum leap in numbers of big cats in VTR. 

Adjacent to the sanctuary lies the historic Valmiki Ashram and surrounding temples. “Valmiki Ashram has its own religious significance. According to the legend, it was the ashram of sage Valmiki who wrote the Ramayana here,” informed a Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation (BSTDC) official.  

Various points of tourists’ interest around the ashram are: Birthplace of Luv and Kush (the two sons of Lord Ram and Sita), the place where the Ashwamedh horse was tied, Amrit Kuan, Vishnu Chakra, Gagristhan and the Hawan Kund. 

Various temples located near Valmiki Ashram include the Jatashankar Temple, Nardevi Temple and Kaleshwar Temple. Tourists from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal visit Valmikinagar and later visit the archaeologically-rich sites like Nandan Garh and Someshwar Fort. There is a lion pillar of Ashoka at Nandan Garh in Lauriya. Made up of a single block of polished sand stone, this pillar is over 2,000 years old and is in excellent condition.  Nandan Garh is a huge mound composed of bricks and is about 80 feet high. According to an authoritative source, it is an Ashoka Stupa, in which ashes of Lord Buddha’s funeral pyre are enshrined. 

Someshwar Fort is situated on top of Someshwar Hill in Narkatiyaganj. This fort is 2884 feet above sea level.    The main flora in Valmikinagar consists of Sal (Shorea robusta), Asan, Karama, Semal, Khair, Cane (Calamus tenuis), Jamun, Siccharrum, and Teak etc, while the main fauna in the tiger reserve consists of tiger, leopard, chital, rhinoceros, sambar, deer, black buck, sloth Bear, monkey and langur.

Some time back, in a first of its kind incident, a female rhino was found killed in the Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve. The adult rhino was apparently killed by the poachers, as its horn was missing when the forest department officials reached there after receiving information from the local villagers. The officials found two bullet marks – one on the head and the other on the rhino’s shoulder. 

The then District Forest Officer (DFO) S Kumarasamy said that the rhino perhaps had strayed from the adjoining Chitwan National Park in Nepal. “The Chitwan National Park, which is home to around 500 rhinos, is situated on the North of Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve. It’s quite possible the female adult rhino strayed into the VTR as it shares a contiguous forest area with the Nepal park,” the DFO had told Deccan Herald. 

Though no rhino poaching case has been ever reported from VTR, forest officials suspect that the poachers, who are quite active in Chitwan (Nepal), might have killed the animal as its horns command high prices in China and Southeast Asia. Used for making traditional medicines, one kg of rhino horn is estimated to cost Rs 15 lakh in international market.It is said that a few rhinos, which had strayed from Nepal into the reserve five years back, have been staying here. 

Prior to this incident, one rhino was killed when it was hit by a running train in 2005. In another incident, a rhino died after it fell into a canal in 2006. But this was for the first time that a rhino had been killed after being hit by poachers’ bullets.

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