Himalayan neighbours to give the tiger more room
Monday, October 27, 2008
India, Nepal plan to connect forest reserve areas to give big cats a new lifeline and save them from extinction
LUCKNOW: “All along the edge of the Himalayas, from Saharanpur and the Jumna River in the north-west, to Gorakpur and the Gandak River to the south east, is a belt of forest varying in width from twenty to fifty miles, which is home to many species of animals,” wrote celebrated wildlife conservationist Col RW Burton in his diary in January 1924.
Little would he have known then that over eight decades later,this entire area would be developed into one linear strip for the protection and conservation of wildlife, especially the tiger.
The Wildlife Institute of India has drafted an ambitious project to connect the forest reserve areas in India with those in Nepal through a wildlife corridor. The unique “Terai Arc” project is to be completed in five years.
“Connectivity with the Royal Chitvan Park in Nepal would mean a new lifeline for our tigers,” says Qamar Qureshi of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). Otherwise, in a few years, tigers may cease to exist in habitats like Sohagibarwa in Maharajganj and Suhelwa in Balrampur district of UP, which are under enormous anthropogenic (human related) pressures and have few tigers left, he says.
Tiger population in India has dwindled to an all-time low of 1,411 in 2007 as per the latest report of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and WII. Though conservationists say this figure is much lower than a realistic 2,000, the 2002 tiger census figure of 3,642 was also considered too optimistic.
The Indian portion of the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) is about 42,700 sq km with a forest area of about 15,000 sq km stretching from the Yamuna in the west to Bihar’s Valmiki Tiger Reserve in the east. It spreads across Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, UP and Bihar along the Shivaliks and the Gangetic plains, and has nine distinct tiger habitat blocks, the largest one being the Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand. Thirteen corridors that potentially connect these nine blocks have been identified.
“Without corridors with Nepal, Indian tigers will not survive,” says Ravi Singh who heads WWF in India. Once the corridor is completed, wild animals would be able to amble freely through the jungles of UP, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Nepal without any hindrance or conflict with human beings, he explains.
Human population increase, ever-growing habitat encroachments, poaching, firewood extraction and collection of bhabar grass for rope-making, stealing of tiger and leopard kills, and boulder-mining are causing enormous disturbances, says a WII report. “Cross border co-operation between India and Nepal is a must to ensure the long-term conservation of tiger and its habitat ,” it adds.
Three of India’s 27 tiger reserves are located in this area - Corbett in Uttarakhand, Dudhwa in UP and Valmiki tiger reserve in Bihar. “Big cats need a large area to exist. They can move over a stretch of 150 km in 30 days. For better conservation, tigers need long stretches of forest area unhindered by humans,” says famous wildlife expert Mike Pande. He also asserts that common corridors between distinct tiger habitats would also mean a genetically strong species. “Movement over large areas would prevent inbreeding and genetic anomalies,” he said.