Busy roads, shrinking space hit tigers in Karnataka

From half-a-dozen busy roads crisscrossing through the national parks to one-third of sanctioned posts lying vacant, five tiger reserves in Karnataka fight multiple challenges to help save the big cats.

Karnataka is one of the two states with more than 500 tigers other than Madhya Pradesh, according to the tiger census data released on Monday. But an accompanying report raises several red flags on park management practices. Large-scale presence of human habitation in both the core and buffer areas is one of the most serious challenges. Equally critical is the inadequate number of frontline staff to manage such vast forest patches.

In Bandipur, Nagarhole and Biligiri Ranga Temple (BRT) National Parks, more than 30% of the posts are vacant. The shortfall is more in front line staff category such as deputy forest range officers (50% in Bandipur) and forest watchers (40% in Nagarahole).

Further, Mysuru-Mananthavady and Hunsur-Kutta roads passing through Nagarhole; heavy traffic on two national highways passing through Bandipur particularly the one leading to Ooty; and Sathyamangalam-Chamrajnagar road and Kollegal-Hasanur road passing through the BRT, disturb the free movement of animals.

Growing human presence in the buffer zone, villages and tribal settlements in the core areas, and increasing tourist pressure add to the challenge. There are around 57 tribal settlements within and on the fringe of the BRT tiger reserve including ten Soliga tribal settlements in the core area, which pose a major and permanent threat, says the Management Effectiveness Evaluation of Tiger Reserves report. 

The northern boundary of Bandipur tiger reserve is dotted by around 150 villages, of which 112 villages are in the buffer zone. With a human population of around 1.5 lakhs and a cattle population of around one lakh, these villages put considerable anthropogenic pressure on the park resources.

     In Bhadra, the corridor connectivity is fragile and disjointed due to the presence of many revenue villages and coffee estates in the buffer areas. There are 52 villages in the core area of Kali (Dandeli-Anshi) that need to be relocated. “The considerable pressure exerted by such settlements on the natural resources exerts negative impacts on the population and habitat of wild animals,” the report notes.

Nagarahole

The biggest weakness at Nagarahole is the space crunch as the tiger population is growing. The park has a perimeter of 220 km, of which nearly 150 km has human habitation. The eastern and western boundaries of the reserve don’t have any buffer and are surrounded by villages.

At Nagarhole also there are about 33 tribal settlements in core areas and 96 villages on the periphery. In addition, there are coffee estates forming an enclosure inside the tiger reserve.

Species pose a threat

More than the native flora, almost all tiger reserves are filled with invasive exotic species which is eating into the free space of tigers. Species like lantana, parthenium, acacia and eupatorium are seen abundantly in all parks and directions have been given to carry out field trials of various methods suggested by scientists to put an end to these species.

In Nagarahole, old monoculture plantations of teak and eucalyptus have also posed a threat to wildlife survival.

Staff lack training

Trained to carry out forestry activities, the forest staffers in all tiger reserves, according to the report, lack hands-on experience in wildlife management. The report suggested that training be given to the staffers as an immediate intervention.

Nagarahole, which attracts the highest tourists, does not even have a tourist information centre, according to the report.

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