New action plan for Project Tiger
Mir Ayoob Ali Khan, TNN, May 24, 2010, 04.45am IST
HYDERABAD: The Critical Tiger Habitat (CTH) in the Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR) now has a twin. Though developed at different times, it was discovered recently that Gundla Brahmeswara Wildlife Sanctuary (GBMWS), in fact, is a conjoined twin of the famous NSTR. Hence, the government came up with a declaration that GBM should actually be considered the extended core of the NSTR.
Spread over five districts connecting all the three geographical regions of the state, NSTR boasts of roughly 70 tigers. On the other hand, GBMWS, that controls the most dense part of the Nallamalla forest, has about 12 big cats. The two are connected by a wide corridor. The government order, which is in the process of being published as a gazette notification soon, is the result of behind-the-scene developments taking place for the past several years.
Before becoming NSTR in 1983, the place covering the catchment areas of Nagarjunasagar and Srisailam dams was first declared a sanctuary, the Nagarjunsagar Srisailam Wildlife Sanctuary (NSWLS). Later, with the objective of protecting tigers in the area more efficiently, the status of the sanctuary was upgraded to a 'tiger reserve'. This is the only tiger reserve of in the state in which 23 per cent of the total area is forest land.
The birth of GBMWLS took place much later, in 1998. The area under the sanctuary is rich and diverse in flora and fauna. While there are well known species of trees like teak, boswellia and terminalia, bamboo etc. There are numerous plants, shrubs and herbs that await scientific categorization and preservation. The animal world is equally rich there with sloth bear, wild dog, hyena, jungle cat, langur, bonnet monkey, sambar, nilgai, chowsingha, chinkara, mouse deer, monitor lizard, marsh crocodile and python etc. found in abundance. Topping the list are, of course, the tigers and panthers. "The forest is free of human habitation and, at most places, too dense to be accessed even on foot," DFO Tulasi Rao said.
Since the 3,568 square km NSTR came into being, the forest department has been pestered with claims on land in the Nagarjunasagar area of the tiger reserve. Ideally, a tiger reserve should be free from human habitation. But NSTR has considerable number of tribals, especially Lambada population, in the Sagar catchment area.
According to some estimates, the number of Lambadas, Chenchus and others in the area has risen to about 30,000. Many of these people have also been given title books on their claims under the Tribal Act.
Rao said an expert committee set up on the advice of the central government found that the Sagar area has become porous with hardly any tiger population. Therefore, the committee felt 1,000 sq km in Sagar should be delineated from the NSTR. This 1000 sq km would not form part of the CTH, meaning the area is not vital for the survival and growth of tiger population. But at the same time, the area would continue to play a decisive role for the protection of hydrological and other natural heritage. Hence, it would remain within the boundaries of NSTR and considered part of the sanctuary, Chief Wildlife Warden Hitesh Malhotra explained.
He said some six years ago, the forest department had sent a proposal to the Centre to convert the 1196 sq km GBMWLS into a tiger reserve. The government of India suggested that instead of making GBMWLS an independent tiger reserve, it could be connected with NSTR and the entire sanctuary be considered an extended core of tiger habitat. Malhotra summed up the situation by saying that while about 1000 sq km from the NSTR is taken out from CTH, 1196 sq km of GBM has been added. The area of the two sanctuaries together now adds up to 4,763 sq km while within this boundary the CTH for tiger would be 3,763 sq km.
With this new development, the forest department has begun working out a fresh management plan for the core one and core two of the tiger reserve together. The core two or GBMWLS would be brought under the Project Director, Tiger, of NSTR and he would be given more assistant conservators (forests), range officers and other staff to jointly manage the two cores. The objective would be to manage Project Tiger better with improved results, Malhotra said.