Protecting tigers and their habitats

Protecting tigers and their habitats

The Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) for tiger reserves in India is an assessment that is taken up once in four years. Five teams have been constituted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to take up the exercise during 2017-2018. One such exercise was undertaken in the tiger reserves of Arunachal Pradesh. This state has three tiger reserves: Pakke, Namdapha and Kamlang. The team of which I was a part of conducted the MEE in Namdapha and Kamlang tiger reserves recently. The two tiger reserves are connected and are located in eastern Arunachal Pradesh. In fact, Namdapha Tiger Reserve shares a part of its border with Myanmar.

The two tiger reserves (TRs) have wide altitudinal gradient, ranging from 500 metres to 4,500 metres. The vegetation here ranges from tropical wet semi-evergreen and evergreen, up to alpine forests. These are unexplored forests of enchanting beauty and dense evergreen vegetation with more than 150 important timber species and valuable medicinal plants. Many perennial water bodies make the area an ideal abode for different aquatic and avifaunal species. Overall,
the area has a great wildlife, natural and
bequest value. However, there is a big challenge to put in sustained efforts for conservation.

Inaccessible pathways

Further, people from some of the landlocked settlements in areas like Vijaynagar and Gandhigram access the markets of Miao in the Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh by walking through Namdapha TR. Lisu families, who migrated from Myanmar after the Second World War, cleared the tree growth and created the settlements. Subsequently, ex-servicemen of Assam Rifles were rehabilitated in some portions, displacing the Lisu families. They occupied areas by clearing tree growth in many pockets of Namdapha Tiger Reserve.

A road was aligned along the left bank of River Dihing, which flows through the tiger reserve for 120 km, to provide access to the families residing in areas like Vijaynagar. Despite the fact that the contract was awarded four years ago, the road is still not motorable beyond the 17th mile. As a result, this makes the tiger reserve's protection difficult beyond this point. No other TR in the country is so inaccessible.

The places on the only road aligned in Namdapha, called Miao Vijayangar Road (MV Road), is referred with mile number starting from Miao. On this road, the TR extends from 10th mile to 79th mile. The total length of this road is 95 miles.

Along this road, forest camps are located at 10th, 17th and 25th mile. Lisu settlements in the tiger reserve are also located along this road. The last survey done by the Forest Department was in February 2012, which revealed that there are settlements at the 38th, 52nd, 56th, 60th, 67th, 70th and 77th mile.

The situation in Namdapha is such that forest officers are stationed on the fringes of TR, while Lisu families live deep inside the reserve.

The Namdapha Tiger Reserve has three ranges located at 17th mile, 25th mile and a place called Farm Base, which can only be approached on foot. The range unit located at the 17th mile has six anti-poaching camps, four of which can only be
approached on foot after crossing the river. This can be contrasted with the work being done in other states. For instance, the roads in all Protected Areas in several states like Karnataka are maintained and repaired regularly. The
anti-poaching camps in these states are even located in remote corners so that no patch of forest is without surveillance.

Crossing the river is not the only issue. The bridle path leading to these places that are covered with thick vegetation also makes it difficult to approach them. These are required to be cleared annually after rains. Thus, for the large part of the year, nearly 90% of TR remains unguarded. Similar paths get covered by vegetation in Karnataka and several other states during the rainy season, but they are periodically cleared for the movement of the patrolling party.

Kamlang Tiger Reserve is equally inaccessible. The TR extends over 980 sq km of forest area. It is situated in Lohit  district and shares its southern boundary with the western portion of northern boundary
of Namdapha TR. There is no motorable road in this TR and forest staff cover
hardly 10% area on foot during routine patrolling.

Intensive monitoring needed

As carrying firearms and hunting is a common practice in Arunachal Pradesh, both the tiger reserves face the threat of poaching. This is, in fact, the main threat that the wild animals face. Poachers use country-made firearms, bows, arrows, snares, nets and traditional traps. There is a need for a sustained awareness campaign to dissuade these people from hunting. Illicit removal of cane in both the TRs is also a matter of concern.

Additionally, the managements of both the tiger reserves have been monitoring the status of tigers. So far, the results are very discouraging. Camera traps in Namdapha Tiger Reserve in 2014 had confirmed the presence of three tigers. In 2015, it had confirmed the presence of only one tiger while in 2016, no tiger was captured on camera. Thus, it has been concluded that the tiger number is dwindling in Namdapha.

Kamlang is a newly notified TR and the system of monitoring with camera traps is yet to be put in place. Intensive monitoring of tigers, co-predators and prey animals must be carried out in these reserves as they do in the tiger reserves in other states like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

The combined extent of these two tiger reserves is comparable to the best tiger landscape comprising Bandipur, Nagarhole, Wayanad and Mudumalai, which is home to nearly 300 tigers. Together, Namdapha and Kamlang tiger reserves have a wonderful habitat and if protection is stepped up, they have the potential to compete with the best tiger landscapes of the country.

The MEE team took up extensive walk in both the TRs and hardly any signs of wild animals were observed. The habitats are intact and the management will need to follow the tiger reserve management guidelines of states like Karnataka and create enough infrastructure like roads and anti-poaching camps to enable the forest personnel to do proper surveillance.

(The author is retired principal chief
conservator of forests, Karnataka)

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