You just cannot push tiger into another habitat

You just cannot push tiger into another habitat

The raised tail and constant alert call flagged by the adult sambar deer was enough indication for driver Ranjeeth Singh to guess the presence of a predator in the nearby bush. However, the knee level grass bush wasn’t giving away much.

“Hold your breath tight and don’t speak loud. The tiger may make the chase anytime soon now,” he said to the six anxious members sitting in that open jeep. And without disappointing us, the T-39, or fondly called Noor, gaited out of her hiding with all the attitude and arrogance at her disposal.

Words fail to explain the hair rising experience of seeing a six-year-old pregnant tigress walking towards you making direct eye contact. The bright eyes, the glowing skin under the golden rays of the dying sun and its fearless confident walk is something one can only experience and not explain.

Noor is one of the 62 counted tigers that are ruling the boundaries of Ranthambore National Park that is spread across 1,113 square kilometer in the Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan. According to Park Field Director Y K Sahu, there are nearly 43 adult tigers and 19 cubs in the reserve area of the forest.

Noor is expected to give birth to cubs by January end, which will compound a peculiar problem for the forest department officials – the problem of plenty. Ranthambore National Park is full to its capacity, in terms of territory space and tiger ratio.

Officials say that the park has a maximum capacity to shelter 40 tigers, however at present there are more than 62 tigers in the park. This has been triggering constant territorial fight and straying of these big cats into human habitats.

Though the total area of the tiger reserve is big enough to hold more tigers, the problem for officials is the concentration of more tiger population in just 40 per cent portion of the total forest area due to availability of prey and water. Surplus tigers, which are mostly young ones, that are yet to find their territory are wandering in the peripheral area and human habitats.  

To avoid such conflicts, the National Park officials are translocating these big cats to other tiger reserves. Since 2008, the park has air lifted nine tigers to nearby Sariska National Park. The officials are studying other tiger parks that can adopt these top predators.

“You can’t just lift one tiger and place it in another habitat. There is a need for greater studies and research to decide whether translocation of these tigers will not make any adverse impact on either the translocated or native place,” said Sahu.

However, the translocation process is not finding complete success as few of the translocated tigers have been found dead under mysterious circumstance. The first male tiger, Dara, which was air lifted in 2008 to Sariska was poisoned and found dead in 2010.

“We are extremely conscious about translocation now. Unless we are completely satisfied with the security, prey base, climatic conditions and other factors, we shall not traslocate tigers from Ranthambore,” said Sahu adding that only those tigers that are straying and don’t have a territory of their own are thought of being shifting.

Problem of plenty

The problem of plenty is a recent phenomenon for the Ranthambore National Park, which is one of the largest tiger reserves in the north western region of the country. Just a hundred years ago, the park was a hunting ground for the kings of Jaipur, who showed off their manliness by gunning down hundreds of tigers.

Though the Union government had declared this forest region as a national park in 1980, they could not control the falling population of the tigers, which slipped from 44 in 1982 to just 26 in 2005. Poaching was very rampant then.

At this juncture, the Rajasthan government, along with Union government, took several stringent steps to prevent poaching. And one important step was to allow safari inside 20 per cent of the total tiger reserve.

With tourism booming in Ranthambore, more number of locals began getting jobs. Today, nearly 80 per cent of the total population of Sawai Madhopur city is directly or indirectly dependent on tiger safari.

Forest officials succeeded in convincing people regarding the importance of survival of tigers in the forest. As a result of this, the locals started helping the forest guards in protecting the endangered species.

Every day, in each trip, nearly 20 jeeps and 20 canters with as many as 520 tourists visit 10 zones of the national park. Both the canters and jeeps are operated by private vehicle owners, who have to take permission from the forest officials. Trips from vehicles are allotted on roaster system.

“After locals started getting jobs dependent on tiger safari, the poaching activities have come down drastically,” said Javeed, one of the drivers of a private jeep operator. “I can safely say that now, there is hardly any poaching in this forest.”

To prevent entering of humans into the forest, the forest department has fenced the bordering areas, with barbed wires scaling up to six feet in many ‘critical areas’.
Forest officials, under the Village Wildlife Volunteers’ scheme, are training youth living in the proximity of forest areas to track tigers, set up camera traps and others. The youth, in return get a monthly honorarium of Rs 4,000, for providing information to the tiger cell, which is the focal point for monitoring of tigers.

“The youth are taking it as matter of pride to be a volunteer,” said Sahu and added that this is win-win situation for both local youngsters and the forest department.

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