Conservation of Core Wildlife Habitat in Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh in central India is situated on the genetic highway connecting two biodiversity hotspots in India: The Western Ghats and the North-East. The Kanha Tiger Reserve (KTR) in the state comprises segments of Mandla and Balaghat districts in the Deccan Peninsular region. The reserve is spread across an area of 2,074 sq. km with a thick vegetative cover of Sal tree and woodland interspersed with grassy expanses. It harbours one of the highest tiger (Panthera tigris) densities amongst India’s reserves and has distinguished itself in saving the swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii) from extinction while supporting one of the largest populations of the deer in the world. The tiger reserve consists of a core area comprising Critical Tiger Habitat, spread across 917.43 sq. km; a buffer zone of 1,134 sq. km; and Phen Wildlife Sanctuary, a satellite micro-core covering about 110 sq. km.
Need for the Initiative
There were an estimated 40,000 tigers in India at the beginning of the 20th Century, which dropped down to a mere 1,872 in 1972. Although the Indian Government created Kanha National Park in 1955, the area under protection was a mere 252 sq.km, which was not sufficient for protecting tigers from being hunted. There were several villages inhabiting the core zone of the reserve with their domesticated livestock, which diminished the grassland and forest cover due to unregulated grazing and felling of trees. In addition, the swamp deer had almost become extinct in the protected area, and its population dwindled to a mere 66 mature adults in 1970.
Conservation Initiatives and Impacts
KTR, is amongst the first nine tiger reserves launched under ‘The Project Tiger’ in India in 1973. The geographic coverage of the Reserve increased substantially with the addition of Hallon Valley and the buffer zone. Subsequently, the villages in the core tiger habitat were relocated to the buffer zone with the twin objectives of protecting wildlife and other biodiversity and initiating eco-development activities in the villages. 164 Eco-Development Committees (EDCs) were constituted in the villages within the buffer zone, under the Joint Forest Management Resolution of the state government. Implementation, and monitoring of conservation and development activities are now jointly undertaken by members of the EDCs and the KTR officials. The EDCs are well equipped with wireless sets, firearms and flying squad. 182 patrolling camps have been set up and assisted by ex-army men and Tiger Protection Force (TPF), for keeping a check on illegal hunting activities, extraction of forest resources and illicit grazing. Activities for habitat improvement have been carried out through weed management and restocking of grassland; building water holes and marshes to improve connectivity between habitats; improvement of reclaimed village sites into lush grasslands; and building relief enclosures to maintain a good prey base. A field laboratory along with a veterinary facility has been set up to capture and treat wild animals. Translocation of tigers, Indian gaur, swamp deer, etc., into neighbouring protected areas has been carried out in order to increase their populations in other habitats. The communities have been relocated from the core zone to the buffer area and trained for alternative livelihoods via biodiversity conservation works and eco-tourism. As a result of the initiatives, the natural Sal and grassland vegetative cover of the area has been restored contributing to ecological functions such as carbon storage, nutrient cycling, water and air purification and providing a safe habitat to the wildlife. The tiger population increased from 71 in 2010 to 96 tigers in 2014 in KTR, with an increase from 257 in 2010 to 308 in 2014 in the state. The blackbuck population rose from 66 in the 1970s to 550 in 2014 and is a noticeable increase in the population of ungulates. An average of 500 daily wagers are employed each year by KTR Management for various conservation works and wildlife tourism. Gobar gas and LPG connections have been provided to the households, along with drinking water facilities. Further, funds raised by tourism in the National Park, called the ‘Kanha Vikas Nidhi’, has contributed to the development of the villages.
The Kanha Tiger Reserve won the India Biodiversity Awards (IBA) under the category ‘Protected Areas’ in 2014.
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