On the eve of Global Tigers Day, Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar released the detailed 656–page report on the All India Tiger Population Estimation, 2018.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced in 2018 that India had 2,967 wild tigers. After sifting through 3.4 crore photographs that were obtained from camera traps placed at 26,838 locations, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had arrived at this number.
The tiger population in India has increased over the year. However, the detailed report by the government has flagged various issues which need immediate attention, These issues could potentially sour the conservation success story.
Tiger conservation is mainly centred on protected areas such as tiger reserves, national parks and regional landscape-level. Then there are tiger corridors within regional landscapes, which are a crucial habitat for them beyond the national parks. In India, there are between 33-35 major tiger corridors and several smaller ones.
As per the report, burgeoning development and infrastructure projects along with anthropogenic pressures are causing several fragmentation threats to these corridors.
"Many tiger populations are confined within small protected areas and some have habitat corridors that permit tiger movement between them. However, most of the corridor habitats in India are not protected areas, and are degrading due to unsustainable human use and developmental projects," reads the NTCA and WII report- 'Status of tigers, co predators and prey in India'.
The government's report has detailed the fragmentation and existential threats to corridors within various landscapes -- Shivalik and Gangetic Plains; Central India and the Eastern Ghats, the Western Ghats, North Eastern Hills and Brahmaputra floodplains, and Sundarbans.
The report states that there are infrastructure interruptions in certain corridors, as the Highway 12A runs through the Kanha Tiger Reserve and Phen Wildlife Sanctuary. Also located within the corridor are the Bodai-Daldali bauxite mines.
In turn, Kanha is connected to its south to Maharashtra's tiger population in Tadoba and Navegaon-Nagzira and to Indravati tiger reserve in Chhattisgarh. The corridor between Tadoba and Indravati, however, is fragmented by the National Highway (NH) 6. Thus, it also affects the connectivity to Telangana.
Besides connectivity, NH6 and NH7, which run through the Kanha-Pench corridor poses a threat of speeding vehicles.
Highways are affecting connectivity between tiger habitats in southern India's Western Ghat tiger landscape.
"Movement of tigers from the high-density source of Nagarahole-Mudumalai-Wayanad to sink habitats of Kudremukh-Bhadra complex is likely to be an important component for tiger population dynamics in this low-density landscape. Two National Highways (234, 48) and State Highways (8, 27, 37, 85, 88, 89, 91, 114) traverse through these corridors at various places. Development along these roads needs to be monitored and controlled within forested areas," News18 quoted the report as saying.
The Wayanad wildlife sanctuary shares its north-eastern border with Nagarhole and Bandipur reserves in Karnataka and Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu. "Expansion of the urban sprawl of Kutta township threatens the habitat connectivity of Wayanad with Brahmagiri and Brahmagiri with Nagarhole. Wayanad is connected to the Silent Valley NP in Kerala through Mudumalai and Mukurti in Tamil Nadu," the report added.
The government has recommended some mitigation measures like wildlife passages, as railway lines and highways get planned through these corridors.
"The government of India has guidelines in place that outline the mitigation measures to reduce the impact of infrastructure projects. These mitigation measures though have to be site-specific to be functionally viable in the tiger corridors," SP Yadav, Additional Director-General of Forests (Project Tiger) and Member Secretary NTCA, said.