Last year, on International Tiger Day, the Union Minister of Environment and Forests had announced the result of 2018 All India tiger and co-predator population estimation which made it clear that Madhya Pradesh now had the maximum number of tigers in India. Soon the Media began trumpeting from rooftops that Madhya Pradesh has regained its status as ‘Tiger State”.
Some naive people attribute the increase in tiger population in Madhya Pradesh to sheer luck and advocate that to sustain these number all the tiger reserves must open every inch of their territories to tourists. Such a view only highlights their ignorance of the issues plaguing Wildlife conservation in Madhya Pradesh and India.
The following four major actions taken by the Wildlife wing of M.P. from 2012 to 2017 are responsible for this success-
- Large scale successful village relocation programme that provided much needed inviolate spaces for tigers
- Improving the degrading grasslands of protected areas and transforming vacated village fields into productive grasslands.
- Strengthening the protection and management capabilities of territorial divisions by training and equipping officers and staff for conservation of wildlife within their respective jurisdictions.
- Revamping the Tiger strike Force to effectively control wildlife crime
During the early days of Wildlife Conservation in Madhya Pradesh, despite the dearth of money and land for village relocation and rehabilitation, we were able to relocate some villages from Kuno, Pench and Satpura from Central government funding and mustered resources from state funds to shift several villages from Kanha and Madhav national Parks. Later in 2008, a reasonably better policy and package was launched by Government of India. (From 1978 to 2012 we could relocate only around 57 villages.)
But the problem didn’t end there as Government of India had little funds to spare. Here one of our most resourceful officers Jitendra Agrawal, who had joined as APCCF wildlife in 2012 (and later became the Chief Wildlife Warden), convinced the state government to allocate funds from surpluses in the Tribal department. The then CS and PS forest were quite helpful and soon we had enough funds to relocate villages from Kanha, Satpura, Panna,Bandhavgarh and Sanjay tiger Reserves and some of the sanctuaries like Ratapani, Kheoni, Nauradehi, Gandhisagar,and Orchha. The village relocation was thoroughly planned and executed. From 2012 to the present more than 100 villages have been relocated outside Tiger reserves and sanctuaries.
The managers kept a detailed record of all the aspects of relocation and ensured post-relocation hand-holding. Both Kanha and Satpura received international acclaim for their extraordinary work. And the end result was that the tigers of both reserves got extensive inviolate areas at their disposal and the prey responded to the additional areas as the sites were converted into flourishing grassland with the able assistance of Professor Muratkar.
We utilized the services of Professor Murtkar to revive degraded grasslands and create vacated farmlands into grasslands in several protected areas and even territorial divisions.
This way, huge additional habitats for herbivores were created and that helped tigers to disperse, occupy new habitats and breed freely. The surplus tigers began to move out of PAs and travel to the vacant habitats that were once inhabited by their forefathers.
The biggest issue before us was to protect tigers dispersing out from the safe confines of tiger reserves.
The central government was unable to provide sufficient funds for wildlife management outside PAs, where most conflicts occur and poaching as well as the retaliatory killing of wild animals takes place. Being intensely aware of this predicament the Wildlife Wing of Madhya Pradesh tried to persuade the state government to create a separate budget head under the state plan and this task was taken up by Jitendra Agrawal as the APCCF Development.
The initiative for creating a separate head in the state plan paid dividends and in 2011 we could succeed in creating a separate budget head for managing wildlife beyond PAs.
Sadly, when this budget head was finally created in 2011 some myopic officers, in the Wildlife Wing then, were not ready to own this head as the allocations were meant to be utilized by territorial divisions. It was only in early 2012 when I joined the Wildlife Wing and found that this important resource was not being utilized at all, I requested the CWLW to allow me to handle this budget head and he graciously agreed to it. We sat together to create a list of activities that territorial officers could use this fund for. Later after Jitendra joined me in later part of 2012 he further analysed and mapped the sensitive wildlife areas that helped in better allocation of funds to the neediest areas.
This additional resource came very handy in effectively combating wildlife crime, rescuing wildlife, erecting crop protection fences, organising skill training for territorial staff, compensating people for loss of life, injury and crop depredation expeditiously, experimenting with mass capture and translocation of problem animals to other suitable habitats and for funding research to create sterility vaccine that could be administered en masse to herbivores inhabiting farmlands.
The territorial officers, who were earlier reluctant to get into wildlife management and used to disown tigers that wandered into their jurisdiction, were now enthused into taking action, a series of training, supply of necessary equipment and timely availability of funds for habitat improvement and protection were the catalyst towards this change in attitude. Regular appreciation of excellent officers and field personnel through the State level wildlife Award given out yearly also provided motivation.
With my constant persuasion, in 2014, the State government ordered a mandatory six-monthly review of all territorial forest divisions to assess the efficacy of their efforts towards tiger conservation.
In 2008, to utilize a special central allocation of ten crores specifically for tiger conservation, I had written the concept note for creating the State Tiger Strike force at Bhopal with five field units located at strategic places that are the hubs of wildlife crime or transit points for wildlife trade besides the force there was a provision to establish fully equipped Tiger Protection Chowkies in the vulnerable ranges of territorial divisions adjoining Tiger reserves.
The tiger strike force was created from the special funds provided by the state by the Planning Commission for tiger conservation, two of these units were provided with dog squads (now more dog squads have been added). After my return from a two-year sabbatical, I was given the charge of Protection wing where during my field tours I realized that both the strike force units and tiger chowkies are in dire straits. I vowed to strengthen them. From the day I joined the wildlife wing in 2012 began working for infusing life into the strike Force and soon it became a force to reckon with.
These multi-pronged efforts contributed to the well-being of all wildlife in the state. It makes me giggle when I try to imagine how sheer luck compels tigers to breed more and shun poachers.
I am happy that there are wonderful officers manning the wildlife HQ and HOFF’s office now and they would ensure that the tempo continues and the entire FD as one unit works towards safeguarding wildlife and their habitats.
The author Suhas Kumar, is former PCCF Madhya Pradesh. Presently he is Members Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh State Wildlife Boards. He is a wildlife expert and has played a major role in devloping the Pench Tiger Reserve during his earlier stint as Park Director.