Central India Tiger Habitat Securement Project
Project location and site:
Over 10% of all tigers on earth live in Central India and occur in four clusters or ‘meta-populations’ in and around Protected Areas that are scattered over the region. Considered as a high-priority ‘Tiger Conservation Landscape’ (Sanderson et al., 2006), Central India is the country’s largest geographical area of tiger (Panthera tigris) distribution (about 40,000 km2) containing over 600 tigers (Jhala et al. 2011). Majority of the tiger populations in this landscape occur within a matrix of land-use types, which also includes 19 Tiger Reserves (TR). This mosaic of protected areas (PAs), reserve forests and revenue villages, along with their arable farmland and common areas, make this area highly amenable to landscape-level conservation of tigers. Five meta-populations of tigers are identified which have a long-term future provided they remain connected through corridors (Jhala et al. 2011).
Figure 1: The Central India Tiger Landscape, map showing location of different Tiger Reserves
Wildlife Trust of India’s (WTI) project in the central Indian landscape aims at conserving critical corridor areas of tiger movement. The project, since 2006, has divulged a great deal of information that marks the Kanha-Navegaon-Tadoba corridor stretch as a vital one, potentially enabling tigers to move from the Pench-Kanha-Nagzira complex on to the Nawegaon-Tadoba-Andhari landscape. The project has documented physical evidence to suggest regular movement of tigers between Nagzira and Navegaon, and Navegaon and Tadoba.
With such high number of tigers in the buffer of Tadoba (Brahmapuri FD), northward movement across Wain Ganga River and also towards Navegaon NP, which was natural to expect, appears to be negligible. The project has identified the possible bottlenecks in the possible movement of tigers northwards. Recently however, tigers have been sighted in the recently declared New Navegaon Sanctuary which adjoins the Navegaon NP raising hope that with good protection, tiger movement may occur. In addition to enhancing capacity of the frontline forest staff who protect tigers and their habitats in the tiger reserves and buffer areas, the project has also focused on integration of local communities in protection of conservation, especially of corridor patches, with positive results since 2011.
Nagzira Navegaon Corridor
Excluding the Nagzira Nawegaon Tiger Reserves, the corridor is of about ~280 km2. This area is inhabited by 89 villages (Fig. 2) with a total human population of 90,000 (approximate) and about 55,000 (approx) livestock (Census figures, Government of India, 2001). The villagers use about 327 km2 of forest land as per government records for various purposes. Two major roads, National Highway 6 and Sate Highway 275 pass through the corridor. Major area of the corridor falls under village/protected forest and Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM), with a small proportion under Reserve Forest.
Figure 2: Settlements in the Nagzira Nawegaon corridor in Gondia district
Statement of need:
The presence and use of the Nagzira and Nawegaon wildlife corridor by people create immense pressure on it. It is manifested by incidents of human animal conflict, tiger prey depredation, livestock presence and forest fires. Various news and reports confirm the severity of the problem in Nawegaon-Nagzira, which has been proposed as a Critical Tiger Habitat (CTH).
In terms of forest quality, major portion is under open forest and teak monoculture. The hilly regions have good quality forest with presence of bamboo and natural water holes. Major area of the corridor falls under Village Protected Forest and FDCM, with a small proportion under Reserve Forest.
Thus, any effort to conserve the tiger and its habitats in Central India should be seen and conceived as a holistic exercise, with focus on reducing poaching; addressing capacity issues of PA management; lowering anthropogenic pressures on buffer zones of protected areas and forest patches (corridors) connecting large populations and nurturing positive attitude towards conservation among various stakeholders.
Villagers making a cook stove in a village in Nagzira Navegaon corridor
WTI’s work in Nagzira Navegaon TR Corridor:
WTI’s interventions in this important landscape have been focused along five thrust areas.
With support from Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund (JTEF), Ecosystem Alliance and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), WTI advanced the project since 2009. Activities to accomplish the objectives are as below:
- Working with communities in key areas to reduce pressure on habitats to offer secure movement areas for animals.
- Improving capacity of frontline forest staff to reduce poaching incidents.
- Improve enforcement in the area including working with hunting tribes.
- Offer policy and legal support to secure conservation in the area.
- Identification of key tiger populations and their connectivity.
a) The villages were classified into threat categories of Priority I (< 1 km from forest), II (1-5 km from forest) and III (> 5km from forest). Figure 3 shows the priority I, II and III villages.
Figure 3: The priority I, II and III villages
b) Status and occupancy survey of connectivity corridor for wild animals between the PA’s; Nagzira Nawegaon (Two dispersal tigers occupy Nawegaon TR after 13 yrs), Nawegaon Tadoba (Brahmapuri division 25 tigers identified outside TR) and Nawegaon Kanha (ongoing).
c) Training and equipping of 1048 frontline forest staff of PAs for effective patrolling and crime investigation.
d) Enforcement, policy and legal support to the State Forest Department in curbing poaching and uplifting protection status to the connectivity corridors. This resulted in various seizure operations in 2013-14. The items seized included tiger skin, seven leopard skins, leopard bones, one antler, guns, bullet shells, snares, motorcycle, two mobiles, burned leopard skin, eight lion nails and 14 leopard nails.
e) To reduce the anthropogenic pressure on the corridor area, WTI introduced a community based sustainable practices approach in priority villages addressing the problems, the basic needs and livelihood of the villagers.
Out of the 15 villages under Priority I, two villages Sondlagondi and Jhambulpani were selected on pilot basis for implementing community based conservation actions. Both the villages were selected due to their crucial location in the neck portion of Nagzira Tiger Reserve. These activities were focused on reducing the human need for forest biomass. Some of the successful activities undertaken were extended to other villages.
The community activities include:
Figure 4: Map showing activities conducted in each village
a) Construction of 1,255 energy efficient improved cook stoves for households of the 20 villages and training on construction of the model using local materials.
b) Livestock improvement promotion through low cost Artificial Insemination (AI) technique with 140 farmers.
c) Social development of villagers by strengthening of SHGs, organizing training, exposure and capacity building program of SHG members, Joint Forest Management Committees and Biodiversity Management Committees.
d) Establish database on vegetation and biotic pressure and periodic monitoring over period to measure the impact of community interventions on habitat and wild animal presence.
e) Agriculture improvement trainings with KVK.
f) Trainings on Sustainable collection and value addition of NTFP’s.
g) Exposure and support to promote and creating demand for products made by SHGs.