'Goan forests are tiger habitats'
5 Jun 2009, 0323 hrs IST, Paul Fernandes, TNN
PANAJI: Mhadei and Neturlim, Goa's wildlife sanctuaries declared in June 1999, were notified then as one of the finest tiger habitats in the country by the Goa government. They were also identified as a tiger conservation unit (TCU) along with continuous forest areas of Karnataka and Maharashtra in a study by international organisations.
The World Wide Fund International, US Fish and Wildlife Services and Wild Life Conservation Society, New York in a study had categorized the western ghats as the second best tiger habitat in India after Sunderbans. The Mhadei, Neturlim, Bhagwan Mahavir and Cotigao wildlife sanctuaries, which form a contiguous corridor with Anshi national park in Karnataka are acknowledged by tiger conservation authorities as an important buffer zone.
"If the tiger habitat (level 1) like Anshi national park comes under threat or is destroyed, then these large contiguous patches, identified as TCU level 2, which serve as buffer areas and a corridor will be crucial to sustain the population of big cats," an ecologist said.
Disputing a statement by chief conservator of forests Shahsi Kumar that Goa is not a tiger habitat (TOI, June 4, 2009), environmentalists and others turned the theory on its head. "According to a census Goa had three tigers in 1993, five in 1997, and four in 2002. This proves their existence here for the past 14 years or perhaps more," a former forest official said.
"If Goa is not a tiger habitat, by the same token, it is not an elephant's habitat either. But we have to realise that for last five years, they have made our forests their home," sources said.
Agreeing with these views, environmentalist Claude Alvares said, "From north to south, these sanctuaries offer a complete corridor for tigers." In 2000, various NGOs from Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra, besides others had demanded notification of the contiguous areas in the three states as Sahyadri Ecologically Sensitive Areas (SESA) in a bid to extend better protection to the biodiversity hotspot in the world.
"The department's field staff itself is coming round to the view that officials need to realise that tigers and elephants are adapting to our forests because of better availability of food and water. They may be coming here from Anshi and Dandeli but are not going back, exploding the theory that they are transitory visitors," sources said.
A wildlife research disputed the belief that tigers are migratory. "If they were, there would be less sightings in winter months when water and food is plentiful in Anshi.
"A female tiger with its cub was recently sighted near Anjunem dam. A mother with its cub will only move in an area with a good prey base," sources added.
Moreover, the Anshi tiger reserve has a floating tiger population and some adults establish their own territories. "Hence, they must have moved into Goa and have become residents here," the sources said.
Environmentalists feel the forest department has to upgrade its research and methods in the field. "The department can take tiger specialists help to gather data and advise and train officers," Alvares said.
Several sightings of tigers have been reported in other sanctuaries especially Cotigao and Molem. "All these watering holes should be monitored for tiger pug marks and tagging should be resorted to enumerate the big cats," he noted, adding that encroachers including mining leases be removed, and a 1km buffer zone around wildlife sanctuaries as suggested in Regional Plan 2021 is ensured.
Then, it can develop into a rich tiger reserve, he said. "The tiger's presence means our sanctuaries are in good health and are worth preseving for the whole world. If encroachers are not removed, man-animal conflicts will be inevitable," he said.
CCF Shashi Kumar conceded that flora and fauna is rich but more research and observations are needed to come out with definite conclusions.