Begin typing your search above and press return to search.

Tigers in crisis: Why Assam's big cats are losing their homes?

By The Assam Tribune
Tigers in crisis: Why Assams big cats are losing their homes?

Source: Twitter

Guwahati, July 29: The forest officials of Assam's Orang National Park and Tiger Reserve (ONPTR) had once embarked on a mammoth task of trapping a Royal Bengal tiger, identified as T-36, which killed livestock and injured one on November 2021. The increased movement and serial attacks of the tigers have terrorised dwellers of Kachariveti Village under Dalgaon Police Station.

"Straying out of tigers to nearby villages have been reported on several occasions, timely action of the officials averted any untoward situation as they were able to secure the safety of the tigers as well as the people. The safe return of the big cats is confirmed by following their pug marks," said Pradipta Baruah Field Director of the Orang National Park and Tiger Reserve.

However, on November 26, 2021, a tiger was reported to have strayed to No 1 and 2 Kachariveti area of Silbori, adjoining the Orang TR. This time the tiger injured one person and killed a goat in the village. "The people were scared and they also turned hostile attempting to hurt the animal," informed Baruah.

The forest department then adopted the click and bait technique to capture the tiger. After two failed attempts the authorities adopted more effective strategies than those applied in the past. The stage was set for third attempt to trap the tiger T-36.

Baruah confirmed that the movement of the carnivore was closely being observed and the tiger was identified through camera trapping method. Fortunately, the team captured the tiger and shifted it to the Assam State Zoo for necessary treatment and rehabilitation.

Field Staff of Orang National Park and Tiger Reserve

Notably, the field staffs of ONPTR of Darrang district have been awarded the International Ranger Award, 2022, for their efforts in safely bringing back strayed tigers from thickly populated residential villages and also maintaining cordial relationships with the affected villagers.

Meanwhile, in Kaziranga National Park (KNP), the spotting of blonde or pale-golden coloured and red-brown (not black) stripes, described as the "golden tiger" became an internet sensation. In 2020 from the flood-hit KNP appeared a tigress-Kazi 106 F with golden fur. While the social media exploded over the big cat's majestic and rare look, experts were not very happy about the celebration.

According to a report by Rabindra Sharma, wildlife expert and research officer at Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, Kazi 106-F - gets her colouring from recessive genes that are a result of inbreeding caused by habitat loss. "However, the finding of this unique individual is not a cause for celebration, but an indication for us to start pondering about better connectivity among fragmented population of tigers to prevent one of the serious problems of population decline i.e. inbreeding," Sharma wrote in research. The report was shared by Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve on Twitter.

"The biological reason of colour aberration may be due to excessive inbreeding caused by habitat destruction and loss of connectivity. The recessive genes are showing up due to inbreeding within a fragmented population," the report said.

The researcher further stressed that Kaziranga needs connectivity with other forested area, specially unhindered connectivity with Karbi Anglong.

It also pointed out that a recent study by Cardiff University and National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) found that 93% of the tiger DNA variants from British period are no longer present in the current tiger population.

As per an assessment compiled by the India Sate of Forest Report 2021, reserves with the highest tiger density per 100 square kilometres includes Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand (14), followed by Kaziranga Tiger Reserve (13.06) and Nagarhole Tiger Reserve in Karnataka (11.82)

Concurrently, the estimated tiger density in Assam's Orang Tiger Reserve is 10.62 and in Manas Tiger Reserve it is 3.30.

On the occasion of Global Tiger Day last year, Minister for Environment and Forests Parimal Suklabaidya said the tiger population in Assam has increased to 200 in 2021 from 159 in 2018 while three of its tiger reserves - Kaziranga, Manas, and Orang - have received the accreditation of the Global Conservation Assured/Tiger Standards (CA/TS). The estimated numbers of tiger population are 121 in Kaziranga, 48 in Manas, 28 in Orang, and three in Nameri tiger reserves.

The latest tiger counts present a reassuring picture, the concern, however, remains due to the persisting factors of loss of tiger habitats. There have been several reports of tiger straying out of their natural habitat and preying on livestock, especially in Orang National Park. Moreover, the inbreeding and infighting among the tigers cannot be overlooked either. The recent recognition accorded to the field staffs of ONPTR exemplifies the beginning of effective tiger conservation but testing times are ahead as securing their habitat is of utmost importance.

On being asked about the need of expansion of tiger habitat, ONPTR, Field Director Baruah replied in the affirmative stating that expansion efforts are on the cards. Earlier this year the Assam government has decided to create additional areas to ONP by expanding its existing area of 78.82 square kilometres to 278.82 square kilometres to secure the corridors and alternative habitats for wildlife dispersal as well as connect it to KNP using the Brahmaputra River islands as connectivity corridor across the riverine areas.

Tigers play a vital role in the ecosystem, as they are a predator at the top of the food chain: the apex predator. They need large living areas, but their habitat has become reduced and several land areas are fragmented. Thus, the solution is to create connections between separated areas.

"Tigers need to move about in search of prey or to breed but when the migratory routes or connecting corridors are obstructed, they are captivated within a particular territory this results in inbreeding- where individuals may be more likely to mate with relatives. This can lead to undesirable genetic variants that leave the feline vulnerable to diseases. KNP has observed that genetics has been changing for example, the golden tiger. The colour variation is because of genetic change and it is because of inbreeding," said wildlife activist Mubina Akhtar.

Assam has witnessed an increase in the population of tigers but when two-three tigers are not able to move freely within a territory then infighting increases, they get killed even due to small injuries. Akhtar asserted, "There should be sufficient routes for a healthy population to thrive. When the dispersal routes of the big cats are encroached upon reports of man-animal conflict surfaces. This also results in straying of the animal and this makes the prejudice towards these cats even worst."

The annual floods and erosion by the Brahmaputra have led to depletion of important wildlife areas, the river also creates new areas by depositing sand bars or chars which can aid migration of tigers and other species. Akhtar further informs that they have suggested the government to identify the migratory routes and declare it as protected area to avoid any kind of encroachment. "When there will be dispersal and there will be movement between different areas then the fear of inbreeding, infighting and straying will not be there," added Akhtar.

Saving the tiger is ultimately dependent upon the protection of its habitat. Monitoring tigers and their prey availability, protecting and developing tiger habitat, eliminating tiger trade and preventing human–tiger conflicts should be the core agenda when it comes to tiger conservation. Although the first step towards conservation has been initiated, Assam still has a long way to go as tigers need sufficient habitat to mobilise and flourish among the diverse forest areas of the State.

Next Story