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High tiger numbers in KNP worries conservationists

By Sivasish Thakur

GUWAHATI, April 30 � Notwithstanding the unusually high tiger concentration in Kaziranga National Park as revealed in a recent camera-trap exercise, experts feel that the development also has darker shades which, if left unaddressed, could imperil the park�s long-term conservation prospects.

This is because quantitative assessment of conservation efforts sometimes tends to be unrealistic vis-�-vis the actual picture. According to Dr Bibhab Talukdar of Aaranyak, which conducted the camera-trapping estimation in Kaziranga, the much-trumpeted success of Kaziranga due to increasing numbers of rhinos, elephants and now even tigers could be a dangerous indicator.

�Unusual increase of these animals in a single protected can be a dangerous indicator. It may be that because of destruction of habitat in surrounding areas, animals have flocked into Kaziranga�s safety. Kaziranga�s ecosystem is highly dependent on preservation of forests in the Karbi Anglong hills,� Dr Talukdar said.

Conservationists are unanimous that restoring and sanctifying the contiguity of Kaziranga with the Karbi Anglong hills holds the key to long-term survival of the park.

�The entire area needs to be treated as a single conservation belt. The State Government should take up the matter with the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council for declaring it as a single protected area,� Dr Talukdar said.

Underling the need for better management of Kaziranga in view of the increasing number of animals, especially the tiger, Dr Talukdar said that unless the tigers had a wider dispersal area, different problems, including infighting and conflict with humans, stood to intensify.

The man-tiger conflict is already more than palpable with a high incidence of cattle lifting by tigers in the fringe villages of Kaziranga. There have also been at least a couple of confirmed cases of retaliatory poisoning by the affected locals in the recent past. According to data with WWF-India, the one-year period from April 2008 to March 2009 saw as many as 171 cases of cattle lifting by tigers. The trend has persisted, with 130 cases from April 2009 till January this year.

PJ Bora of WWF-India which has been engaged in a programme on mitigating the growing man-tiger conflict in Kaziranga said, �Any increase in hostilities between the tiger and the fringe-dwellers could spell doom for the animal. While payment of timely compensation to the affected people is a must, there is an urgent need to look into the reasons behind the tiger�s growing preference for domestic animals.�

The corridors linking Kaziranga with Karbi Anglong forests have suffered extensive degradation due to encroachment, illegal logging, stone mining, growing settlements and tourist facilities, etc., seriously disrupting wildlife movement, especially during the recurring floods.

Bora said that the existing important corridors, i.e., Haldibari, Kanchanjuri and Panbari, were under growing human pressure which needed to be checked to prevent any further degradation.

For a secure future of the tiger, experts suggest improved management of tiger habitat, including restoration and management of corridors between core areas through land-uses compatible with tiger conservation. �Creating additional or expanding existing protected areas to support viable, breeding tiger populations, and linking them with habitat corridors is an imperative need under the present circumstances,� a Forest official with a long experience of serving in tiger habitat said.

�In the past, the forests of Karbi Anglong and the grasslands of Kaziranga formed a single contiguous ecological belt with very few human habitations. But with the gradual opening up of the area on the southern side of the NH-37 resulted in settlements, industries, tourist facilities and tea gardens, undermining conservation concerns,� he said, adding that a policy decision at the government level was a must to check human and industrial pressures.

A corridor apart, encroachment has been a problem in some of the six subsequent additions to the 429.93-sq km Park such as the second, third, fourth and sixth. Pending court litigations have also compounded the process of evicting the settlers. The additions are: first addition Burhapahar 43.79 sq km, second addition Sildubi (6.47 sq km), third addition Panbari (0.69 sq km), fourth addition Kanchanjuri (0.89 sq km), fifth addition Haldibari (1.15 sq km) and sixth addition the stretch of the Brahmaputra river (including chars) running along the Park�s southern boundary.

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High tiger numbers in KNP worries conservationists

GUWAHATI, April 30 � Notwithstanding the unusually high tiger concentration in Kaziranga National Park as revealed in a recent camera-trap exercise, experts feel that the development also has darker shades which, if left unaddressed, could imperil the park�s long-term conservation prospects.

This is because quantitative assessment of conservation efforts sometimes tends to be unrealistic vis-�-vis the actual picture. According to Dr Bibhab Talukdar of Aaranyak, which conducted the camera-trapping estimation in Kaziranga, the much-trumpeted success of Kaziranga due to increasing numbers of rhinos, elephants and now even tigers could be a dangerous indicator.

�Unusual increase of these animals in a single protected can be a dangerous indicator. It may be that because of destruction of habitat in surrounding areas, animals have flocked into Kaziranga�s safety. Kaziranga�s ecosystem is highly dependent on preservation of forests in the Karbi Anglong hills,� Dr Talukdar said.

Conservationists are unanimous that restoring and sanctifying the contiguity of Kaziranga with the Karbi Anglong hills holds the key to long-term survival of the park.

�The entire area needs to be treated as a single conservation belt. The State Government should take up the matter with the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council for declaring it as a single protected area,� Dr Talukdar said.

Underling the need for better management of Kaziranga in view of the increasing number of animals, especially the tiger, Dr Talukdar said that unless the tigers had a wider dispersal area, different problems, including infighting and conflict with humans, stood to intensify.

The man-tiger conflict is already more than palpable with a high incidence of cattle lifting by tigers in the fringe villages of Kaziranga. There have also been at least a couple of confirmed cases of retaliatory poisoning by the affected locals in the recent past. According to data with WWF-India, the one-year period from April 2008 to March 2009 saw as many as 171 cases of cattle lifting by tigers. The trend has persisted, with 130 cases from April 2009 till January this year.

PJ Bora of WWF-India which has been engaged in a programme on mitigating the growing man-tiger conflict in Kaziranga said, �Any increase in hostilities between the tiger and the fringe-dwellers could spell doom for the animal. While payment of timely compensation to the affected people is a must, there is an urgent need to look into the reasons behind the tiger�s growing preference for domestic animals.�

The corridors linking Kaziranga with Karbi Anglong forests have suffered extensive degradation due to encroachment, illegal logging, stone mining, growing settlements and tourist facilities, etc., seriously disrupting wildlife movement, especially during the recurring floods.

Bora said that the existing important corridors, i.e., Haldibari, Kanchanjuri and Panbari, were under growing human pressure which needed to be checked to prevent any further degradation.

For a secure future of the tiger, experts suggest improved management of tiger habitat, including restoration and management of corridors between core areas through land-uses compatible with tiger conservation. �Creating additional or expanding existing protected areas to support viable, breeding tiger populations, and linking them with habitat corridors is an imperative need under the present circumstances,� a Forest official with a long experience of serving in tiger habitat said.

�In the past, the forests of Karbi Anglong and the grasslands of Kaziranga formed a single contiguous ecological belt with very few human habitations. But with the gradual opening up of the area on the southern side of the NH-37 resulted in settlements, industries, tourist facilities and tea gardens, undermining conservation concerns,� he said, adding that a policy decision at the government level was a must to check human and industrial pressures.

A corridor apart, encroachment has been a problem in some of the six subsequent additions to the 429.93-sq km Park such as the second, third, fourth and sixth. Pending court litigations have also compounded the process of evicting the settlers. The additions are: first addition Burhapahar 43.79 sq km, second addition Sildubi (6.47 sq km), third addition Panbari (0.69 sq km), fourth addition Kanchanjuri (0.89 sq km), fifth addition Haldibari (1.15 sq km) and sixth addition the stretch of the Brahmaputra river (including chars) running along the Park�s southern boundary.