Though the area under tiger habitat did not increase in Karnataka’s Malenad region between 1970 and 2015, the number of tigers rose from 70 to 391 there due to strong law enforcement, interventions by non-government organisations, and voluntary relocation of people from wildlife reserves, according to a paper published in Elsevier’s Journal of Biological Conservation on November 16.
The paper said the Malenad landscape, which includes 14 protected areas including Bandipur, Nagarhole, Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple (BRT), and Anshi-Dandeli wildlife sanctuaries, has a potential tiger habitat of 21,000 km. The area can potentially support 1300 tigers.
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India recorded a 33% increase in tiger numbers between 2014 and 2018, according to the All-India Tiger Estimation Results released on Monday. The tiger census released last year indicated there were 2,967 tigers in India in 2018, compared to 2,226 in 2014.
The paper authored by veteran wildlife biologist K Ullas Karanth, N Samba Kumar, and conservation scientist Krithi Karanth is based on field data and practical experience gained in the Malenad Tiger Programme (MTP). MTP is a multi-disciplinary initiative by the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS)’s Ullas Karath. The programme consisted of a series of inter-related projects focused on the recovery and rigorous monitoring of wild tiger populations in the landscape.
The study found that tiger recovery in Malenad region has occurred amid significant human population growth, increased life expectancy, and overall poverty reduction in the region.
“From our analyses, we conclude that despite fragmented habitats, tiger populations have been able to recover in regions of India with high human population densities, economic growth, and development. In contrast, other tiger landscapes in Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and the hills of North-eastern India support more extensive, less-fragmented forests and have lower levels of human population density and development,” the paper said. It added this may be due to factors that do not promote the effective law enforcement which can lead to tiger conservation.
The authors of the paper recommend conservation interventions that are kept in the context of people’s aspirations and socio-economic development. Their main recommendations include focusing on future tiger recovery efforts and investments in wildlife areas currently well below their carrying capacities. Currently, the focus is limited to older reserves such as Nagarahole and Bandipur.
Second, earlier tiger recovery patterns in Malenad also show that effective law enforcement and voluntary village resettlements are two key interventions that increase prey and tiger densities. It is essential to focus on these two interventions by prioritising them in budgets and action plans for tiger recovery, the authors have concluded.
According to the paper, Anshi-Dandeli, Bhadra-Kudremukh, Nagarahole-Bandipur and BRT Cauvery clusters are currently at 96%, 72%, 39%, and 76% below their respective carrying capacities.
“The key to bringing back tigers and other such threatened species lies in apportioning the land wisely separating nature preservation and human development, recognising the continued need for effective law enforcement, encouraging rather than stifling non-governmental conservation efforts, and, accepting the reality that wildlife conservation must succeed under the broader societal mandate for economic and technological progress” said K Ullas Karanth, the lead author of the study.
Independent experts said the paper fails to capture the conservation efforts by tribal communities living in the forests and their rights over forests.
“The current approach of relocating tribal and forest-dwelling communities from tiger reserves is in violation of laws and in fact defeats the purpose of tiger conservation. Communities in India have a long history of forest and wildlife conservation. The community conservation efforts have been recognised and strengthened by FRA. The very few examples of recognition of community forest rights in tiger reserves such as in Simlipal of Odisha and BRT of Karnataka have led to the strengthening of conservation efforts,” said Tushar Dash, member of Community Forest Rights, an advocacy group.
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