Madhya Pradesh Rides the Big Cat
Madhya Pradesh now supports the highest number of tigers in the country, earning the rightful status of the "tiger state". A multi-pronged strategy for tiger conservation over the years has ensured that besides stringent protection, forested habitat in the state commands inviolate space and good prey base for tiger populations.
The outcome of the four-yearly 2018 All India Tiger Estimation declared Madhya Pradesh as supporting the largest tiger population in the country. While with 2967 tigers India supports around 80% of the total world population occurring in thirteen Asia-Pacific tiger range-countries, Madhya Pradesh, with 526 tigers, forms around 18% of the Indian tiger population. The state has registered an impressive increase of 71% over the 2014 tiger estimation result. Speaking generally, as tiger numbers are also reflective of sheer professionalism of foresters and wildlife managers, any state would be pleased to win the coveted status of the “tiger state” in the country. And Madhya Pradesh has this time bagged this position for at least four years until the next country-wide tiger estimation exercise due in 2022.
Forests and PA Network
Always at the forefront of wildlife conservation, and regarded as the “heart of India”, the state is blessed generously with a wide range of natural resources. The physical environments of the state support at least 18 forest types belonging to three Group Types: Tropical Moist Deciduous, Dry Deciduous and Thorn, and forms around 31% of its total geographical area. These forest types also include the precious teak and durable sal woods. The forest coverage of different tree associations and undergrowths, pock-marked by semi-natural grasslands and large clearings, crisscrossed by rivers and streams, is spread over amazing physiographic features. The combination of climate, vegetation and landscape features, has also given rise to a vast number of settings and ecotones, creating many diverse vegetal covers and habitat types for a wide range of wildlife species, especially tigers. With around 11% of the total forest area under protected area coverage, Madhya Pradesh also commands an impressive protected area network of 11 national parks, including 6 tiger reserves, and 24 wildlife sanctuaries. These protected areas support, besides tigers, a host of floral and faunal attributes, some of which endangered and endemic. All these amazing wilderness attributes have made the state a part of the very potential central Indian tiger landscape in the county.
Needs of the Big Cat
Majestic and iconic, the tiger commands perfect precision of predation biomechanics. Nature has evolved this obligate carnivore over thousands of years, lending him a certain niche that gives him a role, position and occupation in the environment, and helps him respond adequately to all natural resources available to him for survival. Very secretive and mysterious in many ways, adult males are inherently peripatetic and wanderers. Being apex predators, occupying the top of the ecological pyramid with no predators of their own, and also highly territorial, these carnivores need large inviolate tracts for prey-searching, resting, loafing, and breeding. Such tracts also need to support quality habitats, which in turn add to prey base for tigers. Being predators of large and small-sized prey, tigers need a large amount of prey. In this way, large inviolate tracts and good prey base are directly correlated to their viable populations. Reproductive attributes of females, with a short gestation period of only around 105 days, and being polytocous, giving multiple births, sometimes even as large a litter as five cubs, at a time, also contribute remarkably to their own species conservation, provided adequate protection, inviolate space and prey base conditions are met on the landscape. They need good natal areas to rear and train their cubs. Over the years, studies on sustained tiger populations of some of the finest protected areas of India and Nepal have provided us with a workable basis for conserving viable populations of tigers in a large forested tract. This rule of thumb suggests ensuring an inviolate core or critical tiger habitat (CTH) of around 1000 sq.kms., with around 100 tigers of different age and sex classes. This population should, however, also contain around 20 breeding females to ensure viability in the foreseeable future.
The state forest department has since long boasted an enviably firm foundation of wildlife conservation in the form of an independent wildlife wing with an impressive top-down organizational structure of wildlife managers throughout the state. Conservation vision has over the years also ensured a wide range of adequate physical, human, intellectual and financial resources to sustain and support wildlife management. Effective policy making, foresighted and strategic planning and adaptive management have helped the wildlife wing reap rich dividends in the conservation of several endangered wildlife species in general and the tiger in particular.
The present success in tiger conservation is a result of a wide range of site-specific conservation practices undertaken in different protected areas in the state. Stringent forest and wildlife protection has been accorded the top most priority among all conservation practices. Patrolling camps networks, intensive foot and vehicular patrols, anti-poaching operations, flying squads, and intelligence gathering are some of the major practices to control tiger poaching through poisoning, electrocution, and shooting etc. Besides, the creation of a very effective network of task forces for wildlife crime control and investigations, deployed at six places in the state, has also been credited with arresting a large number of offenders from various states. The wildlife wing has also got a red corner notice issued by the Interpol to arrest a foreign national involved in several serious wildlife crimes. Taking note of the importance of detection or sniffer dogs in wildlife protection, 11 dog squads, complete in all respects, have been established. These squads have contributed wonderfully to wildlife crime investigation in several areas in the state.
Habitat improvement is another important practice that has contributed significantly. A large number of site-specific habitat and water development initiatives have improved grassland habitats and ensured equitable water distribution in protected areas. These practices in turn have helped build up good populations of different ungulates species, the much-needed prey base for tigers. Besides, relocation of forest villages from protected areas to reclaim and develop these abandoned lands into good grasslands, and integrate them into the surrounding wildlife habitat is another successful practice to enhance prey base and increase tigers in such areas. So far, the wildlife wing has relocated 153 villages, with around 15000 families, from different protected areas. This tiger conservation initiative, accomplished with amazing sensitivity towards the relocated, has also ensured large inviolate spaces for tigers.
This had clearly been understood a long back that without the cooperation of local communities in and around the protected areas, tiger conservation goals cannot be achieved. Accordingly, the wildlife wing has formed a large number of eco-development committees in forest and revenue villages. The chief aim of constituting these micro-institutions is to eco-develop these villages by involving all the stakeholders in a consultative process. These development initiatives emanate straight from micro-plans prepared jointly by villagers and respective protected area managements. Eco-development programmes and a wide range of other incentives have considerably helped PA managements strengthen protected areas by reducing biotic pressure and protecting wildlife, specially tigers, from all forms of poaching.
The wildlife wing has also ensured capacity building at all levels through expert resource persons of relevant fields, and made conservation more professional. The induction of wildlife veterinarians into protected areas was also a foresighted initiative. They have been contributing immensely to tiger conservation in the form of wildlife health monitoring, treatment of sick and wounded tigers, conducting tiger postmortems to infer cause of death, tiger rearing in enclosures, and tiger translocation etc. The wildlife wing has also strived to sensitize the judiciary over all these years through close discussions and workshops regarding the methods and circumstances of tiger crimes in these wilderness areas, and the department’s onus of collecting evidence to prove the offence in a court of law.
The practice of conservation science has also been encouraged in tiger reserves and other protected areas. This has resulted in scientific monitoring/ assessment of the floral and faunal statuses, including quality data collection in four-yearly estimation/ monitoring of tigers, co-predators, prey and wildlife habitats. The staff of managed forests is regularly sensitized about tiger conservation issues. The neighboring tiger reserve managements also organized workshops/ hands-on training to acquaint these personnel with basic protection and investigation practices. It has also been made mandatory for working plans of managed forests to have a separate chapter on proposed wildlife conservation activities for respective areas.
Besides undertaking the above generic conservation practices, Madhya Pradesh has also received tremendous accolades for rearing and training of orphaned tiger cubs for successful rewilding, and capture and translocation of tigers under several reintroduction programmes. The amazing restoration of tigers in the Panna tiger reserve has been hailed internationally as a remarkable feat. The wildlife wing of the state was also extremely systematic and meticulous about conducting this estimation exercise in 2018. At least a year before the estimation, the entire state was divided into several regions. The thorough planning to undertake this one-week long exercise in four cycles incorporated deadlines and accountability for rigorous training workshops, procurement and distribution of exercise instruments and materials, mock exercises, doubt-clearing sessions, and quality data collection etc. The department was committed to surveying the last square kilometer, so to speak, for collecting tiger signs and photo-capturing tigers. Needless to add, this sincerity and hard work throughout for about two years also immensely helped the state to bag this status.