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Tiger outgrow sanctuaries, NTCA plans new homes

                                                                                                                                       26th March, 2015, The hindu, New Delhi

New tiger hubs are on the anvil in the country after the tiger count has gone up by 30 per cent and their population density has surpassed the carrying capacity of many reserves.  Squeezed out due to lack of space, many big cats are straying outside forest reserves and becoming easy targets of poachers or getting embroiled in man-animal conflicts. 

Faced with the crisis, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a statutory body under Environment Ministry, recently unveiled Standard Operating Procedures (SoP) for rehabilitation  of surplus tigers and also suggested potential sites for their relocation.

According to sources, the SoPs suggesting rehabilitation of source population of tigers at the landscape level has been sent to the Chief Wildlife Wardens of the 18 tiger range States and the Field Directors of the respective tiger reserves.

The guidelines state that with the increase in number of tigers in the country, there will be several areas where dispersing tigers will move via human-dominated landscapes and come into conflict with humans.    Often, the main reason for the dispersal of tigers is the high density of the source population. Hence, it is important to relocate such tigers to areas of low tiger density (or no tigers but have recorded tiger presence in the historical range), which have good habitat and prey populations.

The guidelines however, go on to say that care needs to be taken to ensure that such relocations are done within population clusters that share a common gene pool.  Based on the current genetic knowledge of tiger populations and the corridor connectivity, NTCA has identified populations with surplus tigers and the areas where tigers can be relocated.

Accordingly, high-density source populations of tigers exist in Corbett Tiger Reserve, Dudhwa National Park, Kishenpur Wildlife Sanctuary, Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary and Pilibhit Tiger Reserve across Shivalik Hills and Gangetic landscape.
NTCA has identified forest ranges of Dholkhand, Kansrao, Haridwar, Motichur, Ramgarh and Chillawali forests West of Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand as potential sites for relocation.

In the Central Indian landscape, Ranthambore, Kanha, Pench, Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve and Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve have a surplus tiger population. Kailadevi, Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan can take the big cat pressure from Ranthambore, according to NTCA.

Sanjay Dubri Tiger Reserve, besides the newly-declared Guru Ghasidas National Park, Achanakmar Tiger Reserve, Udanti-Sitanadi Tiger Reserve, Indravati Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh and Palamau Tiger Reserve in Jharkhand, which have negligible tiger populations, could emerge as new tiger hubs in the days to come and accommodate surplus tiger populations from the overcrowded tiger reserves.

For the Eastern Ghat landscape, Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh is the high density tiger reserve. Sri Lankamalleswara Wildlife Sanctuary, Sri Penusila Narasimha Wildlife Sanctuary, Sri Venkateswara National Park have been listed as probable sites for relocation of big cats.

As per NTCA SoP, the surplus tiger population from Bandipur, Nagarahole and BRT Tiger Reserves under Western Ghat landscape can be shifted to Bhadra, Dandeli-Anshi and Sahyadri tiger reserves and the protected areas of Goa.

Manas, Dampa and Buxa tiger reserves, Gorumara National Park, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and the forests of Karbi Anglong Hills, on the other hand, can cater to the high-density source tiger population  in Kaziranga and Orang Tiger Reserve in the North-East landscape.

Experts have appreciated the move saying that it has deviated from the previous conservation strategies focusing for the first time on landscape, rather than protected areas alone for relocation of big cats outside tiger reserves. The guidelines have also fixed responsibilities on the territorial forest department for tigers moving out of the protected areas.