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Rising tiger deaths in Madhya Pradesh and the challenge of tiger protection

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Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh, which is recognised as the Tiger State and boasts of some of the best tiger habitats in the country stretching across the the Central Indian Highlands, is confronted with rising incidence of tiger deaths and the challenge of protecting tigers and other wildlife in the Tiger Reserves and other forest areas due to serious lapses with regard to wildlife protection.

The tiger crisis has been flagged by the State Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden Alok Kumar through a letter addressed to all Chief Conservators of forests, Field Director of Tiger Reserves, Directors of National Parks, CCFs Wildlife Sanctuaries, forest officers.and DFOs.

Drawing attention to an earlier letter of 20 August 2020 regarding necessary steps to strengthen the protection of wildlife. the PCCF (Wildlife) has spelt out action that is required to strengthen the safety of wildlife

While observing that it is a matter of great regret that despite the instructions issued from time to time in the past,  protection of wildlife is being neglected, the PCCF (W) has drawn attention to the recent death of a tiger in Panna Tiger Reserve and the death of a tigress in a vehicle accident and its cub under mysterious circumstances in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and the suspected death of a tiger in the North Shahdol forest division on 14 November 2020. Not only this, the bodies of dead tigers are being found in such a decomposed condition that their autopsy is also not possible, he has pointed out.

The prevailing situation is a cause for serious concern, the PCCF (W) has observed adding effective steps are not being taken to protect the tigers in protected areas and other forest areas, due to which the number of deaths of tigers at the state level has gone up. It is a matter of great concern that despite Madhya Pradesh being the tiger State, effective steps are not being taken for tiger protection/ prevention of poaching / death from power lines, death in road accidents etc. Hence in all the tiger reserves, national parks, sanctuaries and and adjoining forests of the state where tigers, leopard, bear etc have been reported or sighted, special campaign should be launched to maintain the safety of wild animals and to prevent wild life crimes

In a stern message, the PCCF (W) has warned of stringent action against the officer / employee concerned if negligence is found in the protection of tigers / other wildlife. In order to keep the state of Madhya Pradesh at the forefront in terms of tiger population, work has been done by the staff / officers of the state Forest department with dedication. In order to maintain this reputation, more effective efforts are needed to strengthen the protection of wild animals, especially tigers, it has been emphasised.

The following guidelines have been issued by the office of the PCCf (Wildlife) to maintain the safety of wildlife.

In order to protect tigers, regular monitoring works in protected areas / regional forests areas should be done effectively at the beat level. Many days after the death of tigers their bodies have been found in a decomposed state. There is delay in informing the headquarters. Acting promptly in the cases of tiger deaths, this office and the NTCA should be informed within 24 hours. Be sure to take legal action by assigning responsibility for late notifications.

Regular meetings of district level task force be organized for protection of forests and wildlife.

Regular monitoring of power lines passing through protected areas and surrounding forest areas should be ensured and tripping of power lines should also be monitored in coordination with the Electricity department. There should not be any poaching with electric wires in the agriculture fields.

Special care should be taken and patrolling / surveillance should be strengthened in such areas

In the PAs, there should be regular monthly meetings of Eco Development Committees with proper dialogue and there should be a review of these meetings

Dog squads should be fully utilized to solve forest and wild crime casesand they can act as deterrent against crime.

The weekly and monthly limit for patrolling by foot should be fixed for Officers at all levels and the performance should be reviewed every month by the
Director / Officer-in-Charge Divisional Forest office. In sensitive areas like river streams, water bodies, natural salt lick caves and nearby plains patrollking on foot should be done compulsorily.

Payment of compensation for loss of life, injury and cattle loss in the vicinity of the protected area should be within the time limit as per the rules. Also, it should be ensured that animals killed by tigers and leopards are not poisoned by poachers. In case of crop loss, the field staff should extend full cooperation when it comes to filing the application by the concerned person and registering of case at the competent level in the revenue department. 

What went wrong with the tiger reintroduction programme at Mukudara Hills Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan?

Suhas Kumar

Representative image by late Bobbie Jamwal. Clicked in Rajasthan


Those who have been following the ambitious tiger reintroduction programme at Mukudara Hills tiger reserve must be dismayed by the news about the death of the 2 nd cub on 17 th August 2020, that was being treated for injuries at the Kota zoo, Its sibling was found dead some 20 days ago, besides two adult tigers Tigers MT2 and MT3 were found dead within a span of 15 days in July.

It is certainly a serious setback to the Forest officers and the state government. I learnt from the newspaper reports that the state government has already ordered an inquiry to find out the causes. I think whosoever is entrusted with this inquiry should consult the NTCA’s MEETR (Management Effectiveness Evaluation) Report for 2017-2018 for Mukundara Hill Tiger Reserve. This report was prepared by a team headed by me; Dr Samir Kumar Sinha of Wildlife trust of India was member of my team. We had extensively toured the area and had discussed every relevant aspect
of management with the officers and staff, we had also interacted with local people before making a detailed report about preparedness of the reserve for tiger reintroduction. Had the NTCA or the State government paid some heed to our findings and recommendations probably the project would have proceeded smoothly without such a dire impasse
Despite strong warning in our report against premature reintroduction without being fully prepared on the ground the forest department had gone ahead with the programme , perhaps, under extraneous pressure and this unnecessary hurry has now cost them dear.

The MEETR reports of tiger reserves are public documents and are available on NTCA Website. Here I am presenting our unedited report to let the readers understand the reasons for such a dismal situation at MTR today and what could
have been done to avoid this and succeed.

Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan


Dr. Suhas Kumar, Chairman
Dr. Samir Kumar Sinha, Member
MEETR (Cluster-I)
(28.11.2017 – 30.11.2017)

Photo source: Tiger Conservation Plan (TCP) of Mukandra Hills Tiger Reserve

Mukandra Hills Tiger Reserve (MHTR) has an unusual shape like a long-handled hammer (80 kms. in length and 2.5 to 5.5 kms. in width). It is a moderately sized tiger reserve with a core extending over 417.17 sq. km. and a buffer of 342.82 sq. km. The buffer consists of patches of forests scattered around the core area.

Mukundara Hills National Park, Darra, Jawahar Sagar and National Chambal Gharial Sanctuary (part), are included in the core area of the tiger reserve. Few forest blocks of Kota, Jhalawar and Chittorgarh division have been included as buffer of the tiger reserve.

The major immediate objective of this reserve is to “establish a viable, free-ranging tiger population in MHTR by the end of 2027 by reintroducing wild tigers from other habitats and rebuilding the tiger population by providing secure and conducive environment for them by creating a 200 sq m inviolate core, improving habitats, and by supplementing prey population by starting a translocation and conservation breeding programme. The plan includes supplementing the founder population by releasing 08-10 tigers in a phased manner over a period of 10 years in MHTR.”

The preparations to reintroduce tigers into this reserve have begun with palpable enthusiasm. Significant progress is visible on the ground in a short span of time. The achievements should be attributed to a strong political will, wholehearted support of the state and efforts made by the Field officers. Despite these positive vibes, the challenges faced by the reserve are enormous – 14 villages in the core and about 90 around its periphery, cause enormous biotic interferences in the habitat. Grazing pressure is quite high; there are about 10000 cattle head owned by 1585 families in 14 villages within the core and approximately 90000 cattle heads in the 86 buffer villages. Cattle herding is the mainstay of local community dominated by Gujjars.

Large scale mining activity has disturbed its connectivity with Bundi. Mumbai – Jaipur railway line and National Highway No. 12 fragments the core area at Darra. Moreover, the core in most part of the reserve is only a few km wide. The evaluation committee was apprised about the plan to reintroduce tigers by year end (2017), and the pace of infrastructure development work on the ground reflected this intent.

However, the committee strongly feels that reintroduction of tigers in the reserve in near future may be counterproductive as preparations, other than construction of enclosures, are far from complete and bringing tigers at this stage may result in serious conflicts with local people. Further, the committee also suggests that tourism in the tiger reserve should be given a backseat until the founder population of tiger establishes itself in their new home.

Strengths

  1. A strong political will and support from the government to establish Mukundara Hills as a popular tiger reserve.
  2. Enthusiastic and motivated Field Director and Deputy Director and a team of young staff.
  3. Serious and concerted efforts have been made to stop the seasonal movement and grazing of around 2 lakh migratory sheep through CTH and to evict illegal cattle camps from core and buffer.
  4. A tenuous connectivity with Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve exits through Indergarh-Lakheri-Ramgarh Vishdhari Sanctuary-Dabi-Jawahar Sagar Sanctuary, and also to Darra through the ravines of Chambal and Kalisindh. Another possible corridor is up to Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary of Madhya Pradesh through Bhainsroadgarh Sanctuary.
  5. A Good tiger reintroduction plan has been prepared and several measures to strengthen protection and monitoring have begun. The e-eye surveillance system, M-stripes, creation of STPF has been planned.
  6. About 10000 LPG connections have been provided to families residing in the buffer to reduce the anthropogenic pressure for firewood on the tiger reserve for firewood.

Weaknesses

  1. The shape possesses an inherent disadvantage to MHTR, making it vulnerable to the biotic pressures emanating from 14 villages inside the reserve and about 87 villages around the periphery. As grazers are the predominant occupants of the area with poor socio-economic background the habitat is under severe stress.
  2. The unusual shape of the core with patchy buffer areas and excessive mining in the corridor linking MHTR with Bundi forests makes it a tough task to ensure long-term viability of tigers in this area.
  3. The area has poor prey base. Recently 400 chital from Jodhpur Zoo were released in the CTH but post-release monitoring was not done, thus fate of the released animals is not known. Sambar are also being translocated from a
    military area. A good number of leopards, jackal and wolf in the landscape exert high predation pressure, therefore, there is a likelihood that the released populations would soon dissipate to unviable levels and will be eliminated completely.
  4. Man-made development infrastructures passing through the CTH like the Jaipur-Mumbai railway line, National Highway 12 pose serious challenges before the managers.
  5. Infestation of Prosopis in the grasslands and lantana in other area is destroying the habitat for herbivores.
  6. Preparation to curb the risk of poaching is not visible on the ground yet. As soon as the tigers are brought here there are chances that the dormant local poachers may be activated by the organised mafia.
  7. The frontline staff is untrained and inexperienced in wildlife management and protection.
  8. The villagers still residing in the CTH are hostile to the management. There have been physical confrontations with the staff in Borawas village recently and also in Giridharpura village last year.
  9. The plan to release tigers within next 6 months is pre-mature as preparations are not yet complete. Non- involvement of a full-time research team to participate in the release programme and later on in the monitoring of the released tigers and prey species is going to be detrimental. Training of staff in monitoring skills such as analysing signs and evidences, PIPs and camera traps appear inadequate and with the results of the plan to release tigers this year would not be much fruitful. In the current situation of low prey base, the reintroduced tigers may thrive on cattle that would certainly aggravate conflict with local villagers.
  10. To protect the CTH from the biotic pressure masonry walls are being constructed. Care must be taken to ensure that these man-made barriers do not cut off the access to the corridors.
  11. Some villages have been relocated on forest land, but the forest lands have not been de-reserved and mutation of the land has not been done, as a result legal status of the land has remained unchanged, even in the cases where
    relocation has completed nine years ago. Due to this lapse, the relocated families are not eligible for agriculture loan and they are mostly kept deprived of Panchayat’s developmental activities. Such inordinate delays may lead to
    loss of credibility and impede the relocation process.
  12. The impacts of interventions to reduce villagers’ dependence of the forest, especially the current level of LPG connections provided to the villagers, are not monitored.

Actionable points

  1. Present practice of hard-release of prey species into the CTH will not be successful. It would be useful to establish in-situ conservation breeding facility at multiple locations within the CTH.
  2. Process of relocation of Giridharpura and Borawas villages should be hastened to help reduce conflicts and make available a large undisturbed habitat to wild animals.
  3. Skills of staff need to be enhanced through trainings in controlling wildlife offences such as surveillance of crime and habitual offenders, traditional hunter communities, intelligence gathering, crime investigation etc.; managing
    conflicts with villagers; monitoring of various aspects of management such as prey base, predators, water sources, fire, road kills, cattle kills , impact of habitat interventions and also interventions in the villages to reduce resource
    dependencies such as distributed LPG connections, etc.
  4. As most of the villagers in the buffer depend on cattle and a sizable number on mining for livelihood the conflict with them will continue in future unless a long term systematic intervention is set in motion to provide them skills and opportunities to switch over to other sources of livelihood.
  5. The complaint of rehabilitated villagers about non-issuance of revenue pattas of the forest land on which they are settled should be addressed at earliest to make the rehabilitated families eligible for getting agriculture loans and reap the benefits of rural development schemes of the government. The management must take cognizance to resolve this issue. In March 2017 the MoEF&CC has already issued a clarification allowing de-reservation of forest
    land diverted for relocation and rehabilitation of villagers from PAs. This needs to be consulted for.
  6. Retrofitting of NH12 and the railway line passing across the entire width of the CTH at Darra WLS needs to be completed as early as possible.
  7. Strengthening the management of Bhainsroadgarh sanctuary would be necessary to support the Mukundra tiger relocation project. This is the area that the tigers from Mukundara would occupy in the coming years. It would be
    prudent to notify Bhaisroadgarh sanctuary as a Satellite Core of the MHTR and bring it under the administrative control of MHTR management.
  8. Reports of occasional presence of tigers in this forest tract indicate existence of live corridors but the situation on the ground today is dismal – the corridor between Bundi and Mukundara is already vitiated owing to the heavy mining activity in Suket. As the government is keen on bringing in tiger in Mukundara, it would be worthwhile to free some area by stopping mining in critical movement passages. A study to understand the ground situation and give suitable recommendations may be initiated at the earliest.
  9. Monitoring of the impact of interventions in the villages such as supply of cooking gas connection is not being done. It would be useful to monitor the level of use of the LPG as well as its impact on the consumption of firewood.
  10. The committee came across some cemented waterholes constructed for wild animals. The use of too much cement-concrete in such water holes and their design should be reviewed and improved. The committee also advises to
    avoid building artificial waterholes that require filling up by transporting water from elsewhere. In water scarce areas provision of solar powered pumps for filling up the water holes may be made. The availability of ground water
    should be determined beforehand by carrying out Vertical Electrical Sounding (VES) Resistivity Survey.

The author, Suhas Kumar, IFS (Retd.), is former PCCF, Madhya Pradesh. Now he is Member Madhya Pradesh State Board for Wildlife, Member Chhattisgarh State Board for Wildlife, Member Governing Council NCHSE Bhopal, Member Delhi Biodiversity Society, Member WWF-India, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh State Advisory Board

Operation Durga Vahini: The Story of Tigers of Kerwa

Suhas Kumar

Dateline: Bhopal 2012- till now

A number of negative Newspaper reports highlighting constant intrusion of a female tiger and her two cubs into human habitation and twice into the city of Bhopal over a span of just a year, precipitated a meeting of experts and forest officials in the office of the Chief Wildlife Warden, on 26 July 2012. In this meeting, considering the risks to human life as well as to the tigers themselves, I suggested capturing those animals and relocating them to a safe and suitable habitat in Satpura tiger reserve. The prime concern for suggesting this was to protect the tigers from poachers as Bhopal has a good number of elite poachers who would have loved to try their hands at shooting a tiger instead of small game that they were fond of indulging in every now and then. Another decision that we took in that meeting was to begin a training programme for the territorial field staff in the identification of signs and evidence, surveillance, crime detection, and investigation.

Photo source: Google Map

As the tigress had a territory extending from Ratapani sanctuary- Kathotiya to Kerwa, the untrained territorial staff were at their wits end to locate the tigers and prove to the media that the tigers were alive and healthy. To overcome this shortcoming, we deployed some Baiga trackers from Kanha to train the field staff in tracking skills. We also requested the Indian Institute of forest management to depute their two wildlife experts Dr. Yogesh Dubey and Dr. Advait Edgaonkar to prepare a field-training programme for the staff of Bhopal, Sehore and Obedullaganj territorial divisions to impart knowledge and skills of field craft to them. Both wildlife experts were wise enough to rope in our iconic officers of yesteryear S.M. Hasan, R.C. Sharma and P.M. Lad. The CCF of Bhopal was assigned the implementation of these recommendations.

We also took a decision that once the tigress is located in Kerwa area, a team of wildlife vets with experience in wildlife rescue would assemble at Kerwa to carry out the rescue operation with the help of six elephants brought from the tiger reserves.

At that time, little did I realize that the tigers were not the intruders but in fact, we (humans) had intruded into their home and therefore it was our duty to protect them, instead of shifting them elsewhere.

Meanwhile, on 19 September 2012 one of the cubs was found lying in a deep ditch among boulders and thorny bushes near Kathotiya village. The rescue team of Van Vihar retrieved it and brought it to Van Vihar. As the condition of the cub was very poor with multiple injuries and a broken leg, the vet from the Centre for Wildlife Forensic and Health, Jabalpur was also summoned but despite their best efforts the cub succumbed to the injuries on 27 September 2012. Though the vets didn’t find any wound that could have indicated use of trap or a fire arm we assumed that the injury might have been caused by the fall into the ditch and the scraping of the skin of underparts and legs might have been caused by its umpteen unsuccessful attempts to pull itself up on the slope of the ditch. But this incident required us to find the mother and the second cub that were not sighted by the staff or villagers for many days.

To launch the search, retired Ranger N.K Bisen, who had considerable experience in tracking wild animals and rescue operations, was requested to help us and put on the job on 10 October 2012 to search for the tigress and its cub. On the evening of 10 October 2012, N. K Bisen along with SDO, Bhopal Jain, and range officer had already located a kill in compartment number 219, about 2.5 km from the Kerwa nursery, and saw three tigers there (one male, one female, and a cub). On the 12th morning, he along with DFO Bhopal, L. Krishnamurthy, and SDO Bhopal again saw a cub, a male, and a female. He had photographed the male and taken video shots of the female.

Kerwa Tiger, October 2012. Pphoto by L. Krishnamoorthy

Once the two tigers were located along with a new male a meeting was convened in the office of the chief wildlife warden the same day to discuss the next step to manage tigers of Bhopal and a detailed strategy was conceived. As the field-craft training of the territorial staff was to conclude on 14 October 2012, and the field conditions in October were ideal for such an operation, the Chief Wildlife Warden instructed me to commence the operation at once.

We briefed all concerned of the strategy on 15 October 2012. CCF Bhopal S.S Rajpoot was designated the head of the field operations. From CWLW’s office, two APCCFs – Dharmendra Shukla and I were deputed as supervisors.
The problem at this moment was that the team of vets and elephants had not yet assembled and therefore it was impossible to commence the operation immediately. Elephants from Pench tiger reserve were not called for this operation as the incidence of Herpes virus had already killed two elephants there.

On 15 October 2012, the Chief Wildlife Warden issued a formal order permitting capture and relocation of the female and its cub to a suitable habitat. The CCF Bhopal discussed with me the modalities, and at the end, he asked me a question – Sir, what should we call this operation?” and then he suggested a name- “Operation Durga Vahini.” It was certainly an apt name as the operation was to take place during the Durga Puja festival and involved Goddess Durga’s Vahan (vehicle) – the tiger.

The team of wildlife vets from Panna, Pench, Satpura tiger reserves and Madhav National Park and six elephants from Kanha, Satpura assembled at Kerwa by the evening of 16 October 2012. A meeting to review the preparations was conducted by the supervising APCCFs at the field camp. By this time the evidence of the presence of only one of the three tigers was found in compartment 219, therefore the search for the female and its cub was intensified. In the evening of 17 October 2012 the Chief Wildlife Warden visited our camp at Kerwa nursery to review the progress. As we were briefing the CWLW, we got the news that one of the elephants from Satpura was unwell, the symptoms – swelling of the forehead and cyanosis of the tongue were observed by the wildlife vets, these symptoms were the sign of a deadly disease of the elephants- Herpes. Besides, one of the elephants from Bandhavgarh was showing signs of “Mast’ and therefore deploying it for the operation was ruled out. The mood at the camp was desolate, and all the attention was to treat and save the elephant. The team of vets tried their best to keep the animal alive. The expert elephant veterinarian- Dr. Sharma of Assam- was contacted over phone and treatment of the elephant began, but she succumbed to the infection in the late night. Therefore, the operation was suspended on 18th, but the collection of evidence of tiger presence continued.

In the evening 18 October 2012, we got the news about the presence of one tiger in compartment 219. Next morning, we commenced our operation to search it and find out whether it was the female or some other tiger. Dharmendra and I took part in the search. As the tiger had killed a buffalo the previous night but had only eaten it partially at the rump, the likelihood of its sighting was high. But despite a thorough search, we could not find the animal. That morning, while alighting from the elephant Dharmendra broke his ankle.

Next morning on 20 October 2012 we searched for the tiger again. Bisen saw the tiger in the morning near the kill it had made the previous night and kept a watch on it. As the tiger was in sight, the team decided to immobilize it and put a radio-collar on it (even if it was not the female) so that in future its movement could be monitored with ease. The team of vets along with CCF and I began to encircle the tiger with four elephants. When the tiger saw the elephants, it gave out a loud roar and then ran into the cover of lantana bushes. It stayed there for about 5 minutes, growling intermittently and then it rose and walked deeper into the cover of thick lantana bushes. After that, despite a lot of effort, the tiger eluded us. The team assembled for debriefing and to discuss the future course of action. The mahouts felt that four elephants were not enough to encircle the tiger or pursue it and find it after it had been hit by a dart as the undergrowth was very dense. Vets, therefore, decided to wait for two more elephants that were to arrive the next day from Kanha.

I apprised the CWLW of the developments.

A News was published in Dainik Bhaskar on 21 October 2012 which I found hilarious as well as disgusting – the reporter who wanted to be a part of our search operation but was not allowed had imagined scenes from the field and had had painted a fairy tale picture of the happenings of yesterday. She wrote- “The vet fired a drug dart at the tiger, which missed it and then the angry tiger jumped into the air and flew over the heads of the mahout and forest staff and landed on the other side”. Annoyed by this irrational report, I called the lady and asked her whether she was present on the day when such an exciting action was going on in the forest of Kerwa. Then I told her I was there and what had actually happened.

There was still confusion about the sex of the animal hence the field teams were asked to ascertain this at the earliest. On 21 October 2012 two mahouts, who had seen the animals’ rear, confirmed that this was a male tiger.
As our primary target was the female and her cub, we intensified our search to locate her. CCF Bhopal traveled to Kathotiya from where the staff had reported her fresh pug marks on 21 October 2012. In the evening he reported to me that he had seen and traced fresh pug marks of the female in compartment 214 Bhanpur on the boundary of Sehore and Bhopal Division. He could also see the pug marks of the cub some 1.5 km away from its mother’s pug mark in compartment 212 Samnapura. It was then decided to try and attract the female to a suitable location in any of these two compartments or at a suitable site near it and launch the operation early morning on 23 October 2012.

As this operation could not and wasn’t supposed to continue indefinitely, we gave ourselves a deadline – till 31 October 2012. As shifting the entire camp was not feasible, we suspended the operation till 26 October 2017; only the tracking and monitoring teams remained active hoping that the female would return to Kerwa. On the 26th evening, we got the good news that the female and her cub had returned.

On 27th October we were in the field again, but the tigers continued to play hide and seek. On 31st October at about 6 AM, we found fresh pug marks of the male as well as the female on the dirt road not very far from the Kerwa dam. We mounted the elephants and soon located the tigers in a forest patch nearby. The vets geared up to take the shots but restrained themselves when they saw the tigers in courtship.

We left the tigers alone and assembled for debriefing. We unanimously decided to call off the operation in the present circumstances. We also concluded that the tigers in Kerwa and Kathotiya are not vagrants but residents in this habitat and they should have the right to their home. These tigers obviously were from the nearest natal area –the Ratapani sanctuary, and now they have found a home in these forests. I came back and briefed the CWLW. Of course, he was a bit worried as tigers were living too close to people now and sooner or later, he would have to face pressure from the politicians and the mandarins sitting in Vallabh Bhawan (Mantralaya or the Secretariat). But he as a true leader, he respected our point of view and stood by this decision.

The best outcome of this field exercise was the training that the territorial staff received from us in field craft – making pug impression pads (PIPs), maintaining and monitoring PIPs, setting up camera traps, reading pugmarks, made them confident, and they never looked back. Now, these foot soldiers are adept in tracking tigers and predicting their whereabouts. We also provided sufficient resources to L. Krishnamoorthy, DFO Bhopal to create perennial water sources in the forest, camera traps, deployment of watchers and for surveillance and protection. More vehicles were hired for round the clock patrolling and later WWF-India provided a Bolero for the field teams. In due course of time, we supplemented the on-foot and vehicular patrols with an electronic surveillance system – called the E-Eye. Four towers (now 5 in 2017) fitted with cameras equipped with powerful zoom and night visions were erected at strategic places to cover a large part of the tiger movement area in Bhopal and Sehore forest divisions. A permanent control room was set up at Kerwa to monitor tigers, other animals, and intruders. A system of SMS alert is inbuilt in the software that sends messages to the mobile phones of the field teams and DFOs.

For his excellent work. I recommended his name for WWF-PATA bagh Mitra Award and my nomination was upheld. Krishnamoorthy received the Award in 2014 at a ceremony in New Delhi.

The hue and cry about tigers of Kerwa have again resurfaced in recent times. The problem is the short-term solutions like capturing and shifting tigers from Kerwa is not going to work as the vacant territories will be occupied by new tigers dispersing from the nearby natal area- the Ratapani sanctuary.

Check: Wildlife expert bats for Tiger Conservation; blasts move to use Kerwa-Kaliasot area of Bhopal for building semi-public and public institutions

There had been some hasty decisions some time ago, when a young male was captured and shifted to a tiger reserve. I don’t think that this strategy would work. When I heard of a second such attempt to capture and transfer a young dispersing tiger from Dewas, I couldn’t retrain myself from sending an email letter to Jitendra Agrawal, CWLW, on 21 Jan 2017.

I am reproducing that letter:
“This mail is about the latest attempt by the wildlife wing to capture a dispersing tiger from Dewas division.

“As you would recall, we began equipping and training the territorial officers and staff to inculcate in them a sense of responsibility towards wildlife management in their respective jurisdiction. Enthused by this support from the headquarter some of the CCF’s and DFOs did excellent work towards monitoring and protecting tigers. As you already know, tiger number is going up in natal areas, and it is quite natural for the young and the weak ones to get out of PAs to find new homes or vacant territories. And while doing so, they are frequently accosted by the villagers and city dwellers. Tigers by nature are wary of human beings, and they swiftly leave the area frequented by people. These dispersing tigers should be left alone. If such a tiger has taken residence in a habitat near a village, the first thing that territorial forest staff should be doing is to plan a proper monitoring and protection protocol and follow it meticulously (Datia case is an excellent example). One should realize that wherever (in territorial forests) the tigers are dispersing were once tiger bearing areas not far back in time (the population estimation data from 1999 to 2002 clearly reveals this truth).

These tigers should not, unless they pose an imminent threat to people by becoming a confirmed man-eater, be removed and placed in a zoo or shifted to other habitats. Because if we permit this to happen frequently we would be negating our own hard work and the territorial staff would never become responsible for wildlife in their territory (in every case in which a tiger is seen in a territorial division the CCFs and DFOs will inform the head quarter and persuade the CWLW to remove the tiger).The other noteworthy point is that considering the prey availability, as well as most of our tiger reserves, have enough tigers already and sending more tigers caught from territorial divisions to those tiger reserve will create more problems for both – the tigers and well as the wildlife wing.”


The author, Suhas Kumar, IFS (Retd.), is former PCCF, Madhya Pradesh. Now he is Member Madhya Pradesh State Board for Wildlife, Member Chhattisgarh State Board for Wildlife, Member Governing Council NCHSE Bhopal, Member Delhi Biodiversity Society, Member WWF-India, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh State Advisory Board

Wildlife expert bats for Tiger Conservation; blasts move to use Kerwa-Kaliasot area of Bhopal for building semi-public and public institutions

Kerwa male tiger- Photo by L Krishnamoorthy

As a citizen of this country as well as a resident of Bhopal, Suhas Kumar, who is an acclaimed wildlife expert and has the credit of developing Pench Tiger Reserve in its present form and playing a major role in formulating and implementing the policies of the Wildlife Wing of the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department for many years, has strong objection to the proposal to allow public and semi-public institutions to come up in the area around Kerwa in Bhopal. This area is home to around 11 resident tigers and dispersal route for the young tigers of Ratapani Wild Life Sanctuary. With the dedicated effort of the forest department of the state government the forest habitat of Ratapani, Kathotiya, Kerwa and Kaliasot have become excellent habitats for tigers and as a result of this there are around 45 tigers in Ratapani alone. Newsroom24 is presenting a brainstorming writeup by Suhas Kumar on this vital issue. It should shake the authorities in Madhya Pradesh and galvanise them into the action mode for the sake of Tiger conservation

Suhas Kumar

The young dispersing tigers are travelling through the forests and revenue forests and riverine vegetation to those areas where tigers had vanished due to the onslaught of unplanned development – now these young tigers are reaching Sehore, Kantaphod, Kheoni Sanctuary, Omkareshwar National Park (proposed), Choral and Shajapur Forests of Madhya Pradesh. Therefore, tigers of Ratapani and Kerwa are major contributors to the overall tiger population of the State and this has resulted in Madhya Pradesh regaining its status as the ‘TIGER STATE’. Now, the Government’s move to allow public and semi-public institutions to come up in the Kerwa area would completely destroy the efforts made so far towards tiger conservation.

The State Government and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) have already spent a huge amount of money to protect and manage this area for tigers. The Officers and staff have zealously spent so much time and energy to ensure that the tigers of Kerwa remain safe – for the first time in the history of conservation in India the NTCA spent around 4.5 crore to establish the e-eye surveillance system covering 3 territorial forest divisions, the state provided funds to organize a series of trainings for territorial staff for effectively monitoring the tigers, gathering intelligence and curbing illegal activities in the tiger movement areas. If the government at this stage wants to undo this hard work that is linked with the prestige of the State as the TIGER State of India, then it is heading for a major shock as the tiger-wildlife conflict will increase and as always the tiger will be the loser and the Forest Department and Madhya Pradesh will earn a bad name.

This video of a tiger on a highway in Madhya Pradesh, recorded by some unidentified persons, went viral on social media

There is a strong need to understand that till a 100 years ago, the city of Bhopal was an extensive wild land extending in all the four directions but within the last six decades the progressively expanding township began eating into nature’s strong bastion that once teemed with wild animals. The onslaught of development accelerated and in the last 15 years, the city ate into the remaining wild habitats bringing humans into a direct conflict with wild animals. The concrete jungle has fragmented and destroyed the homes of the wild inhabitants. Till the decade of the ‘60s of the last Century, the jungle covered most part of the capital of the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh and tigers used to roam in areas that now constitute the new Bhopal that is an extension of the old city.

Only a vestige of the original jungle remains at the South-East periphery of Bhopal and that too is now threatened by ill-planned expansion of the city. Ratapani wildlife sanctuary is located just at the South- South-East fringe of this forest garland. Ratapani Sanctuary is the only secure habitat left in this tract where tigers have been breeding. Over the years the habitat has improved, and the number of tigers has increased, necessitating young tigresses and tigers to move out from within the sanctuary boundary to the forests outside the Reserve to find suitable breeding and foraging habitats. My personal knowledge is that tiger’s movement in Kerwa has been reported every year since 1996, while a survey by WWF –India, in which they interviewed some village elders reveals that the tigers have been using the Kerwa-Kathotiya tract from time immemorial. It is another matter that in those times neither the media was so proactive to seek out tigers nor the Kerwa or Kaliasot area was so full of academic institutions, human colonies, and a heavy tourist inflow. The only change in the behaviour of tigers that we see now is that some tigresses have started using Kerwa, Kaliasot and Smardha forests for breeding and raising cubs.

Tigers make news especially when they appear near the cities; only a little commotion precipitates in media when the large cats wander around a village. Is it an elite abhorrence of tigers? The fact stares in the face – the city dwellers are under real threat from rising number of criminals in Bhopal. And from among animals, the city residents are more prone to contracting rabies from a huge population of stray dogs or there is always the danger of a deadly bite from the snakes that have become more active as their dwelling holes and crevices are being dug out and destroyed by colonizers. In sharp contrast, the tigers around Bhopal pose a marginal threat, in fact, it is this magnificent species that is seriously threatened by humans. (Kerwa Tigress: Photo by L Krishnamoorthy)

Possible Strategy that may resolve the problem:

  • Plan the expansion of the city rationally to preserve the garland of the extant green belt around Bhopal.
  • Identify all movement paths that a tiger might use to stray into human dwellings, fence these areas off with a combination of mesh-wire and solar power fence; both types of fences would need intensive upkeep and monitoring. Or, if the government is willing to spend money build a ten feet wall topped with 3 feet of mesh-wire fence all along the movement path like the one built by the managers of Ranthambhore tiger reserve to keep the town of Sawai Madhopur out of bound for tigers.
  • Train and place at least six professional teams to monitor and report tiger moment 24X7 outside Ratapani sanctuary, and issue timely alerts.
  • Identify suitable potential tiger habitats outside protected areas (in territorial divisions and buffer zones), carry out required habitat augmentation work to enhance prey base, build the capacity of the staff and equip them in a way to combat wildlife crime and monitor tigers in their areas. Once this is achieved the wildlife wing may be able to rehabilitate tigers straying out of natal areas into such potential habitats.
  • Improve habitat protection and development of grasslands in Kerwa, Kathotiya Ratapani, Badi and Samradha forest and augment water sources where necessary in these areas. Once the habitat improves, chital (spotted deer) should be translocated from Protected Areas (Pas) with surplus chital population.
  • Implementing this plan will entail a huge capital and recurring expenditure, but in a State that is committed to conserving its natural heritage, this is the only logical way to protect the Bhopal tigers from vanishing into oblivion.
    The planned development of the area in question by the State Government was brought before the NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL PRINCIPAL BENCH, NEW DELHI Original Application No. 457 of 2018 (Earlier O.A. No. 159 of 2014(CZ)) (I.A. No. 104/2019 (CZ) & 106/2019 (CZ)). As per the directions of the NGT the APCCF, Regional Office, MoEF and Chief Conservator (CC) at Bhopal visited the site and submitted a report in respect of the land in question.

The report of APCCF, Regional MOEF and CC, Bhopal, recommends as follows:

“Therefore, the undersigned most earnestly submits that to save the further destruction of this important tiger habitat all the remaining deemed forest areas may be quickly mapped, notified and handed over to the State Forest Department for administration. One of the ways to hasten the process is for the State to offer these areas under the Compensatory Afforestation (CA) scheme for a large number of forest diversion cases being submitted by the State Government, every month, to MoEF and CC for clearance. It is assured that MoEF and CC has no hesitation to accept these areas under CA scheme.”

After receiving this report, the NGT passed an order asking the State Government to direct the Forest Department of Madhya Pradesh to proceed on the aforesaid recommendation with regard to mapping, notifying and handing over the land so notified to the Forest Department. As per the direction of the NGT this exercise should have been completed within a period of three months by 30 April 2020.

This was a very logical and sane recommendation by the Government of India. The GoI even proactively suggests central funding to protect this habitat as a tiger habitat. There should be no hesitation on the part of the State Government to accept it without any reservation. I therefore request the State Government, as a citizen as well as a member of the State Board for Wildlife, to stop any further development work in Kerwa area and maintain a green belt there. The Government should also implement the Plan detailed above to ensure survival of forests and tigers in the area. Tiger is a national symbol and a matter of pride for the State, we all must strive to protect it and its habitat at all cost.


The author, Suhas Kumar, IFS (Retd.), is former PCCF, Madhya Pradesh. Now he is Member Madhya Pradesh State Board for Wildlife, Member Chhattisgarh State Board for Wildlife, Member Governing Council NCHSE Bhopal, Member Delhi Biodiversity Society, Member WWF-India, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh State Advisory Board