The National Tiger Conservation Authority offered an alarming statistic recently. In an unprecedented loss in tiger numbers in the country, the past 10 years saw 1,059 tiger deaths, including 127 in 2021 alone, and 75 in 2022 already. Having said that, also noteworthy is the coming up of cultural conservation practices and focused monitoring in specific pockets. Tiger numbers are up by 33% since 2014, when the reported population of the big cat was 2,226. There are four additions to India’s existing tiger reserves this year, most of them already having received government approval.
Across India, all 53 existing tiger reserves are managed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) under Project Tiger. They have set up critical tiger habitats or core zones surrounded by a buffer periphery for the habitat protection, wellness and breeding of the striped cats.
NTCA has announced four new reserves recently, which makes an amateur wonder what prerequisites determine the allocation of a zone as a reserve and what benefit it offers to wildlife. While the general explanation involves the identification of high tiger density zones by state governments, the longer answer includes monitoring of the predators through line transect methods, habitat characteristics that favour the lifestyle of the species, human impact on the zone and prey dung density—all identified and reported to the government with the recommendation of National Board for Wildlife and advice of the Tiger Conservation Authority to be designated a protected tiger reserve.
Once declared a reserve, NTCA guidelines regulate infrastructural developments of roads, electric lines or railway tracks in the tiger populated zone. An inviolate space of 800-1,200 square kilometres is designated for a population of 80-100 tigers, with 20 breeding females provided for natural population safeguarding. In the tiger reserves, tourism is also controlled, as the roaming areas only include 20% of the core region.
The Malai Mahadeshwara Wildlife Sanctuary might be better known for the temple of the same name but this 2013 established sanctuary has been recognised for successfully increasing its numbers of big cats. With seven forest ranges and two other tiger reserves bordering it as part of the same district, the area witnesses good tiger movement (estimated tiger population in the reserve is 25 and is steadily growing). The Malai Mahadeshwara Wildlife Sanctuary is the sixth tiger reserve in Karnataka.
In Chhattisgarh, the Guru Ghasidas National Park, along with the Tamor Pingla Wildlife Sanctuary have been accorded tiger reserve status jointly. The Ghasidas park, originally part of Sanjay Dubri National Park, is the last known habitat of the Asiatic Cheetah in India and also acts as a corridor for tigers between Bandhavgarh and Palamau reserves. Apart from tigers, Tamor Pingla is also home to nilgai, chital, sambar, boars and foxes.
The Ramgarh Vishdhari Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan gets its status as a way to safely accommodate tigers spilling over from Ranthambore. Rajasthan’s fourth tiger reserve, Ramgarh Vishdhari Sanctuary in Bundi district, will be India’s fifty second. The reserve includes the habitat between Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve. This new nomenclature is an attempt to aid conservation efforts in the region, encourage more travel to the area and open up livelihood opportunities for native communities. Besides tigers, the reserve also has a healthy population of leopards, chitals and wild boars.
In Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary, tiger reserve status is a slightly more complicated process. The Idu Mishmis, a local aboriginal community, consider the tiger as ethnically significant. Although with increasing numbers of tigers in the region it becomes imperative for reserve status to be conferred, the Idu Mishmi community has requested the government to consider a tiger reserve that is built on a cultural model, a method it claims has resulted in successful tiger conservation in the region across generations.
Earlier, in February 2021, the Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu, the state’s fifth, was designated as such by the NTCA. The reserve was created by combining the Srivilliputhur Grizzled Giant Squirrel Sanctuary and Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary.
–Inputs by Muskaan Gupta
This story has been repurposed from National Geographic Traveller India’s July-August Issue (#IndiaAt75). To read about 60 trip ideas for better travel across the length and breadth of India, get your copy of the issue here.
Samarpan Bhowmik is Deputy Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. Ever on the lookout for novel experiences, he believes the best way to travel is to do it slow. He hopes to hitchhike the length of South America one day.