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Tiger reserve status for Rajaji still uncertain

                                                                                                      The Pioneer , New Delhi, 18th May, 2013
The fate of Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand as the next tiger reserve of the country hangs in the balance despite over a year since the announcement for its creation by Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna.

Even the member secretary National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had visited the park soon after to take stock of the situation. However, despite the hype the National Park figures nowhere in the list of four proposed tiger reserves submitted by Environment Minister in Lok Sabha, recently. These include Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), Ratapani (Madhya Pradesh), Sunabeda (Odisha), and Mukundara Hills (including Darrah, Jawahar Sagar and Chambal Wildlife Sanctuaries) (Rajasthan).

Neither does Rajaji figure in the list whereby the State Government have been advised by the Ministry to send proposals for six other forthcoming tiger reserves:

According to experts, declaring Rajaji as a tiger reserve is the need of the hour to take on the rising big cat population from Corbett Tiger reserve. Currently eastern part of Rajaji has a healthy population of 10-12 tigers, as per the results of camera trapping by Wildlife Institute of India (WII).

Well-placed sources in Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) said, “the Centre is ready to go ahead with the plan but the proposal is yet to reach us.”

Despite CM`s announcement, little has moved at the ground level in the State, they added. The two connecting ranges of Kotdwar and Laldhang that form the crucial connectivity between Corbett Tiger Reserve and Rajaji NP, are subjected severe anthropogenic pressure. The large township of Kotdwar and its surrounding villages, have increasing settlements of Gujjars, they pointed out.

Chief Wildlife warden SS Sharma however informed that the proposal is being drafted and it will take some time before being sent to NTCA. The proposal is being worked out without the inclusion of Kotdwar and Laldhang ranges, he added.

Dr Bibhash Pandav, heading the Department of Endangered Species, Wildlife Institute of India who is working in the region stressed Rajaji desperately needs the status of tiger reserve in order to secure the future of tigers across their north western distribution limit. But declaring it a tiger reserve without the inclusion of the two above ranges will not much solve the purpose of taking on the dispersing tigers from Corbett having a density of 17 tigers per 100 sq/km.

“Both Kotdwar and Laldhang ranges form the crucial connectivity between Corbett and Rajaji NP. There is clear evidence that elephants and tigers moving between Corbett and Rajaji, move through these ranges.” Given the anthropogenic pressures there, it is very important to step up the protection mechanism to safeguard the dispersing tigers, he stressed.