With a study on tiger poaching revealing that the big cats were killed only when they ventured outside Panna Tiger Reserve, the call for creating a functional buffer zone has gained momentum, writes Ritesh Mishra
The study in tiger poaching cases suggests that the big cats were killed only when they ventured outside the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) territory.
Moreover, three recorded cases of poaching of tigers in 2002 and 2006, state that the reasons behind poaching of tigers were not related to illegal trade. This calls for a critical need for functional buffer zone for PTR to check the poaching cases.
The JJ Dutta Committee report on PTR stated this fact and has recommended that a buffer zone should be established in PTR but now it has not been done by the Forest Department.
The other findings were- the village relocations, grazing control and improved fire protection led to excellent habitat recovery of a large part of Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR), which supported an optimum density of wild prey. This high prey density habitat served as the breeding area for tigers and accounted for a steady growth in tiger population. The report states that by 2002 this productive part of PTR had achieved saturation density of tiger population and was already yielding a “breeding surplus” in the form of sub-adults of both sexes that needed “dispersal habitat” beyond the breeding area for survival. On the other hand, absence of reasonably protected and moderately productive dispersal habitat around PTR proved to be a major deficiency for tigers in years 2002 onwards.
The dearth of a functional dispersal habitat also caused grown up sub-adult males to frequent the breeding area as transients and as these attained adulthood led to frequent turnover in territorial males In years after 2002, As recorded by researchers these frequently changing dominant males indulged in heavy cub killing in the breeding area.
Ajay Dubey, an RTI activist, who sought this report filing an RTI, while speaking to The Pioneer said that buffer zone is most important issue in PTR. “I have written to all the authorities in this regard, even the Chief Minister but nothing has been done till now,” he added.
The report which was submitted in end of 2010 states the poaching inside PTR were the main cause of decimation of tigers, as was alleged by researchers and media, it should have led to killing of both males and females But the observed subsequent preponderance of males as compared to females. Steady and significant decline in presence of cubs also pointed to declining female numbers within PTR, which can only be explained by the females moving outside.
The report in its finding clearly pointed out that of course animals can and should be sourced from different parks but their familiarisation in the new park is important before they are released as independents. The translocated animals should therefore remain together for some time in the acclimatisation enclosure, preferably large enough (10 or 20 hectares) and separated by a transparent fence so as to allow visual contact.
Translocation of tigers or other animals from one park to another, within a State or between States is essentially ordained by the objective need of active population management as a vital scientific aspect of larger conservation management strategy in the current scenario in India.
The Forest Department should of course apprise local leaders and conservationists as well as tourism industry of such scientific considerations in advance and elicit their understanding and support for such activities, which nonetheless must go on regardless of such support forthcoming.
About the buffer zone, the report states that PTR is potentially a viable conservation unit and can support a tiger population of about 40 animals but it needs a functional buffer zone. Tigers were mainly poached when they ventured out of PTR but the three recorded cases of poaching of tiger in 2002 and 2006 question the effectiveness of control even if these cases were not linked to illegal trade.
This reinforces the critical need of a functional buffer zone for PTR. A functional buffer zone is ordained by the “breeding area” within PTR complemented by “dispersal habitats” so as to prevent the population stress from surfacing again, when the current repopulation efforts, as desired and expected, succeed in a few years.
The report states that PTR requires a new management plan. The last plan was written in 1999: this was then a well-rounded document, living the age and the challenges. The present circumstances and changes in situation need to be incorporated and the aim should be to make this the best plan for conservation in all India. The Committee has suggestions for improving habitat management, managing tourism, setting up of a buffer zone, initiating eco-development and ecotourism for local peoples benefit. These suggestions should be considered by the Planning Officer and the Department. The need is for the Forest Department to raise itself to a level of respected excellence in a time when challenges abound yet support for change and improvement of the present situation is extant, provided there is a perception of change and drive.
There is need for Forest Department to meaningfully involve local people as well as informed individuals in conservation, and there should be a structured forum and process of such interaction including that with the “whistle blowers”.
The age profile of the Madhya Pradesh Forestry Service has got vitiated in that most ranks, due to lack of timely recruitment for a number of years, reflect aged incumbents sub optimally fit for field duties.
The Committee encountered evidence from 2005 onwards of intensifying protection by way of the State Government being seized of the matter as well as of PCCF-General and PCCF-WL issuing directives and making supervisory field visits. Evidence also came forth of these instructions being carried out in the field in PTR.
The Committee’s interactions and discussions with police officers threw up the need that even at this late stage a professional police agency should investigate into tiger poaching from 2002 onwards in Panna Tiger Reserve as well as in other reserves and intervening forest areas.
Instituting a police investigation into tiger poaching mortalities, notwithstanding the delay. This was not suggested for any retribution but with the positive aim of finding out the networks and methods of the poachers and recommending a strategy of coordination between the Forest Department and the Police Department in future. This initiative should lead to Madhya Pradesh becoming a zero tiger poaching state in the next one year.