In a setback to plans for two new tiger projects in Maharashtra, the state forest department has ruled against the upgrade of the Umred Karhandla and Tipeshwar wildlife sanctuaries to the status of tiger reserves.
The state had earlier appointed a committee to examine the conversion of the Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary (UKWLS) to a tiger reserve. After the disappearance of Maharashtra`s iconic tiger `Jai,` from the sanctuary, the demand had gained traction due to its rising population of big cats and the need for better protection. Officials noted that the 189 square kilometres UKWLS could link tiger projects like Bor, Navegaon- Nagzira and Tadoba for better tiger movement and genetic dispersal.Senior forest department officials confirmed that Shree Bhagwan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF-Wildlife), had submitted a report about the plan to convert UKWLS into a tiger project not being feasible.
“The PCCF has submitted a negative report to the state government. There is no need (for UKWLS to be upgraded to a tiger project). It will create other problems including opposition from people,” Girish Vashisht, divisional forest officer (DFO) and spokesperson of the forest department`s wildlife wing, told DNA. He added that to link UKWLS with the Bor tiger project, the buffer that had been proposed for the reserve, would reach the outskirts of Nagpur city. “The rules are same for sanctuaries and tiger projects. Its only that tiger projects get grants from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Centre,” said Vashisth, adding that the state was willing to allocate funds for wildlife management.
The proposal by a committee consisting of state and NTCA representatives had suggested that the UKWLS area be the core and an additional area be designated as the buffer.
Vashisht said similarly, the department was also negative on a proposal to convert the Tipeshwar wildlife sanctuary to a tiger project. It was proposed that the 148.63 square kilometres Tipeshwar sanctuary be clubbed with the Painganga sanctuary (400.28 square kilometres) and declared as a tiger reserve.
“If we try to link Tipeshwar and Painganga, parts of Telangana will come in between. It also covers a developed area and is impractical,” said Vashisht, adding it would lead to resistance from the 14 villages inside the Painganga sanctuary, which would be part of the proposed core area and require resettlement.
He pointed out that of the 54 protected areas in Maharashtra, barring the five conservation reserves, 19, including national parks and sanctuaries had been included in tiger projects. Sources said that while the Centre funded schemes in tiger reserves, the changed funding ratios, wherein the state had to contribute a part of the costs, would ensure only incremental benefits.
However, a senior forest official noted that converting UKWLS and Tipeshwar- Painganga into tiger projects would have introduced better landscape management, habitat development for the growing tiger population and enhanced connectivity to tiger habitats within and outside the state.
“There is a vast difference between management of protected areas and tiger projects,” he said, adding that the approach was more holistic in the second case due to a unified control over the core and buffer areas and the bordering parts under territorial forest divisions. The formation of a tiger project will ensure better protection due to the deployment of the special tiger protection force (STPF) and availability of Central funding.
Conservationists pointed to how converting UKWLS into a tiger project would ensure wildlife-oriented management and peoples` participation and reduce instances of man-animal conflicts due to speedy grant of compensation for crop and animal losses. The inclusion of the Bramhapuri territorial forest division, which has a healthy tiger population, in the buffer would have helped wildlife-oriented management. Moreover, UKWLS has a population of 19 big cats which were emerging as a source for other tiger bearing areas.
The last location of the seven-footer and 250 kg Jai, who is named after Amitabh Bacchan`s character in the blockbuster `Sholay` was at Paoni range on April 18. If UKWLS was a tiger project, Jai`s movements could have been monitored over an extensive area, sources said.
Maharashtra has six tiger reserves. The tiger census, results for which were released in 2014, have said India has 2,226 tigers, up from 1,706 in 2010. Maharashtra has around 190 such big cats, more than the figure of 169 in 2010.