After hectic deliberations, scientists and wildlife experts have established a consensus on tiger corridors in the central Indian landscape which account for one-third of the tiger population of the country.
The Network for Conserving Central India (NCCI), which has been working in this regard, has been holding consultations with various stakeholders.
Tigers across the central Indian landscape traverse long distances to get from one tiger reserve to another.
A similar genetic makeup of tigers in different reserves indicates that individual tigers born in one tiger reserve have moved across the landscape and bred with tigers in other reserves. In this way, connectivity between tiger habitats facilitates healthy genetic exchange and thus more viable tiger populations in the future.
Extensive focus on tiger conservation and connectivity over the last decade has created a swathe of effective conservation plans for tigers in India. As the focus has shifted from independent protected areas to a wider landscape approach, these plans increasingly emphasise the importance of wildlife corridors to facilitate natural gene flow throughout the landscape. However, the spatial agreement of corridor locations across studies, especially in the heart of India’s tiger habitats -- the central Indian landscape -- had not been assessed until now.
The study, which has been published in the journal Conservation Biology, derives Consensus Connectivity Areas (CCAs), which represent areas where all five studies agreed that there was high movement potential for tigers.
The five studies agreed most on areas that impede tiger movement (urban areas) and the areas where tigers could move freely with minimal barriers (forests). There was lower agreement in intermediate areas (agriculture), reflecting uncertainty in our knowledge about tiger movement in human-dominated landscapes.“We hope that this result offers a clear message about where the current science agrees, and can bolster existing efforts to conserve tigers and other species that share their habitat in central India”, says Jay Schoen, who led the connectivity data analyses.
The paper emphasises that collaboration among scientists and studies with different results could be a way forward for forming consensus on important corridor locations to overcome confusion when studies do not appear to agree.
“Encouragingly, conservation science and conservation action have interacted more closely in recent years. Yet even within the same landscape, it can be challenging to distill a clear message from independent studies and institutions. Collaborative, concerted efforts of multiple stakeholders with a common goal have led to many wins, big and small, for the wildlife and wilderness in India,” says Kishor Rithe, who works in the central Indian landscape.
The authors of the study found that land ownership in CCAs is complicated, with overlapping or contested ownership among multiple arms of the forest department and villages. Specifically, around 70 per cent of the CCAs fell within village administrative boundaries, 100 per cent overlapped forest department management boundaries, and over 16 per cent of total CCAs’ area was within one km of linear infrastructure.
“The successful management of CCAs will require consensus among stakeholders on the appropriate balance between potentially competing objectives for safe passage of dispersing wildlife, livelihood needs for local communities, and infrastructure development” according to Dr Amrita Neelakantan, who led the management implications analysis.