Prachi BhucharSunday, March 2, 2008 (Corbett Tiger Reserve)
At a time when the country’s wildlife is hit by a growing man-animal conflict, and poaching pressures, the Corbett National Park is a success story that many wildlife managers would love to replicate.
Corbett is the oldest national park in the country. Over the last 70 odd years the Corbett Tiger Reserve has gone from strength to strength. It is today touted as one of the finest examples of tiger conservation in the country.
At a time when the tiger census report has many state government cringing, Corbett success story comes as a surprise.
The big cats love the Corbett forests.
The Corbett Tiger Reserve has a happy family of over 160 of them. However, dark clouds gathered over the Park in the 70s when the tiger numbers fell drastically. But soon the pug marks were back. The striped, tawny animals were roaming freely again.
What has made Corbett a successful conservation story?
The park’s biggest strength is its dedicated forest staff and their innovative strategies like hiring villagers from the buffer zone as guides.
A Rahman, a guide in Corbett National Reserve is from a Gujjar cluster, located on the periphery of the park. He has taken eager tourists, wildlife enthusiasts a thousand times down these paths. Rahman says he thinks like a tiger now.
”Till three years ago I had no idea about the reserve forest, what it meant. I could not care less about the tiger. But there has been a big effort to involve village folk in tiger conservation by creating awareness and giving them roles within the park. As it is linked to my livelihood its absolutely imperative that the tiger survives and I will do all to protect it,” said A Rahman.
The staff is quite well looked after. After long hours out in the forest, they can finally lower their guard.
”There was a point when I worried about returning after a day in the forest. I had to cook my meals, wash my clothes. It prevented me from working as hard on duty. With the mess for forest staff, our lives have become so much smoother,” said Gopal Bisht, another forest guard.
The anti-poaching camp in the reserve is considered sensitive because the forest guards are forced to patrol the range through the night as they attempt to keep poachers at bay.
For all-night patrolling, a new system has been introduced.
”We introduced the concept of long term joint-foot patrolling where the groups of three or four guards patrol the forests for about 10-14 days at a time. They don’t just cover their beat area this way but get to cover a wider area almost 100-150 square kilometres. This has really helped them gather intelligence quicker and report to us if anything in the forest seems amiss,” said DS Rawat, park warden.
Corbett has also been spruced up. Large tracts of Lantana weed have been cleared. A more systematic forest fire drill is in place.
The forest department has successfully relocated three villages on the periphery of the park. And local involvement in tiger protection has gone up.
Though the tiger numbers have gone up, there is no such thing as being too vigilant, say officers. There can be no let up. Tiger need constant vigil.
The tiger roars in Corbett country, drowning the trumpet of wild tuskers, long after the Sun has gone down. And for the forest guards, the day has just begun. Keeping pace with the big cat is a tough job.
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