DEHRADUN: In what is said to be the "world's largest effort invested in any wildlife survey till date", Corbett Tiger Reserve of Uttarakhand has recorded the highest tiger density amongst 50 tiger reserves in India.
The report titled ‘Status of Tigers Co-predators and Prey in India’, released by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on Tuesday, the eve of Global Tiger Day, revealed that the CTR has 14 tigers per 100 square kilometers which is highest in India.
Dhananjai Mohan, director of Wildlife Institute of India, the institution which played a key role in the country's 'Project Tiger' said, "This has been possible due to good prey base, forest cover, protection and conversation efforts. Even distribution of prey base is also a key and in CTR it's pretty evenly distributed. It's really amazing for a state like Uttarakhand with small areas to achieve such a feat."
According to the voluminous 656-page report released by the Union Minister for Forest and Environment Prakash Javedkar, the CTR has the highest tiger numbers with 231 inside the reserve and 266 utilizing the reserve.
Utilizing means animals does not necessarily share the habitat on a permanent basis but move from one area to another through corridors which connect the forests where tigers reside.
The report was prepared by the state forest department of all states where 50 tiger reserves are located along with Wildlife Institute of India and National Tiger Conservation Authority in the span of' over two years.
Second place in terms of tiger density has been secured by Nagarhole Tiger Reserve (NTR) in Karnataka with 127 tigers followed at third place by Bandipur Tiger Reserve (Karnataka) with 126 tigers and fourth place by Bandhavgarh and Kaziranga tiger reserves with 104 tigers each. Three reserves in Mizoram, West Bengal, and Jharkhand have no tigers.
Parag Madhukar Dhakate, chief conservator of forests in Uttarakhand said, "This feat is encouraging and we have been giving our best to protect wildlife and environment in the state. We will continue doing so in letter and spirit."
The report evaluates the status of habitat corridors connecting major tiger populations and highlights vulnerable areas that require conservation attention for each landscape providing information on major carnivores and ungulates (hoofed mammals) regarding their distribution and relative abundance.
The survey was done by dividing the country into four regions- Shivalik Hills and Gangetic Plains Landscape, Central Indian Landscape and Eastern Ghats, Western Ghats Landscape and North East Hills and Brahmaputra Plains Landscape.
Uttarakhand which has two tiger reserves- Corbett and Rajaji falls under 'Shivalik Hills and Gangetic Plains Landscape' along with protected areas in states of Uttar Pardesh and Bihar.
The report asserted that resorts and private landowners around the CTR need to be sensitized to remove fences that are impermeable to wildlife at critical points to permit passage through their property.
Underlining the concerns for the corridors the report warned that these are further threatened by the proposed Kandi road that will connect Kotdwar to Ramnagar through parts of CTR and added that restoring the connectivity in the foothills and less hilly tracts is crucial for elephant movement that is currently almost curtailed and leads to conflict.
"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," the report said.
The report also said that the supplementation of tigers into western Rajaji is a quick but short term solution and for long-term persistence in this area, connectivity with eastern Rajaji is vital.
Notably, in a first, five tigers (two males and three females) will be translocated for the first time in Uttarakhand from Corbett Tiger Reserve to Rajaji Tiger Reserve in October this year to inrease tiger population in the western part of RTR.
The report, elaborating on tiger density revealed that it was significantly and strongly related with prey abundance indices and the density increased as chital, sambar and gaur encounter rates, as well as their dung density, increased.
The report was prepared by covering 381,400 km of forested habitats in 20 states of India along with a foot survey of 522,996 km for carnivore signs and prey abundance estimation.
To cover the ground, camera traps were deployed at 26,838 locations which produced 34,858,623 photographs of which 76,651 were of tigers and 51,777 were of leopards.
The total effective area sampled by camera traps was about 121,337 km .
The report stating that monitoring tiger populations is thus synonymous with understanding the pulse of the forested ecosystems of the country, both spatially and temporally furthermore added that monitoring programs need to be holistic, addressing an array of parameters related to the survival of the species by using the blend of the best available science and technology while being practical to implement at large spatial scales.
According to All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018 released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July last year in July, there are 442 tigers in Uttarakhand.
The population of India's national animal in the hill state has registered an increase from 178 in the year 2006, 227 in 2010, 340 in 2014 and 442 in 2018.