BENGALURU: Karnataka, which has consistently recorded a rising tiger population, is set to retain the top slot for the third consecutive time. The number of tigers in the state’s forests is believed to have increased to about 500, the highest in the country.
The tiger census report is likely to be released on July 27 by PM Modi. The Ministry of Environment and Forests had earlier planned to release it on World Tiger Day on July 7. As per the 2014 census National Tiger Conservation Authority of India report, Karnataka had 406 big cats. The total tigers in the country was put at 2,226. The 2006 and 2010 NTCA records showed Karnataka retained the top spot with 290 and 300 tigers, respectively.
Sources in MoEF told The New Indian Express that Karnataka’s numbers are promising because of the conducive Western Ghats environs. The landscape of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa show promise.
According to forest department officials, the numbers rose in 2014 due to better conservation measures and assessment patterns, like introduction of camera trap method. In the case of the 2019 census report, the increase in number will be because areas outside reserves like territorial divisions and non-forest areas surrounding forests have been assessed by direct sightings and even through camera traps.
But experts question if Karnataka will be able to keep up the efforts in conservation and protection of the big cats whose numbers are steadily rising.
“Karnataka must work more on conservation projects. Mere afforestation is not the solution to increasing green cover. Maintaining the existing patches is a bigger challenge. Reports of tiger deaths, projects related to water, electricity and roads being sent for environmental clearance and shrinking buffer zones could reduce tiger numbers. The same may be the case with elephants also. Between 2012 and 2018, Karnataka lost 99 tigers,” the MoEF source said.
“If not 500, we are hoping that there will at least be a 15% increase (around 467 tigers). Numbers are likely to increase in territorial ranges and areas outside tiger reserves, which are becoming habitats of sub-adults. But with this comes the challenge of ensuring they are protected. The department is working on adding more reserves, increasing the eco-sensitive zones and buffer zones,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (wildlife) Sanjai Mohan said.
The department is also working towards increasing the protected areas around reserves like around Nagarhole Tiger Reserve and declaring MM Hills as Karnataka’s sixth tiger reserve. The state wildlife board, State Government and NTCA have given the nod for the MM Hills proposal, Mohan added.
However, the department is not keen declaring Kudremukh wildlife sanctuary a tiger reserve again. “The proposal came in for severe criticism from locals and politicians. We are not raising it again, at least right now. However, if the census figures show an increase in tiger numbers, then it will be taken up with MoEF again,” another forest official said.