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Saturday, July 31, 2021

‘Conservation education work will take place on 800-acre Aarey land’

Nitin Kakodkar, former principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), who retired on June 30, talks to Yogesh Naik about the measures taken during his tenure to protest wildlife in Maharashtra and the challenges the state faces in avoiding man-animal conflict.

Written by Yogesh Naik | Mumbai |
Updated: July 5, 2021 7:32:34 am
Nitin Kakodkar

Nitin Kakodkar, former principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), who retired on June 30, talks to The Indian Express about the measures taken during his tenure to protest wildlife in Maharashtra and the challenges the state faces in avoiding man-animal conflict.

How do you describe your term as the PCCF wildlife?

This is a very challenging post because of the increasing man-animal conflict issues. My term has been satisfying, and I have spent my time building confidence of field staff and giving them support.

Nearly 800 acres of Aarey land has been given to the forest department. What plans does the department have for this plot?

Conservation education work will take place there, and it will be ensured that vegetation in the area returns in full scale. Leopards have been migrating in Aarey, and this can provide more space for the animals of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).

The Bombay High Court ordered removal of all hutments from SGNP in 1997. Why has the park failed to remove them even after 25 years?

The major constraint is the number of houses that we need to give as part of rehabilitation. Earlier, we provided 12,000 apartments, which was a big challenge. Now, we need to provide another 12,000 homes. These hutments in the park are in close proximity to each other, with some eligible for rehabilitation and rest not. They can’t be demolished in a row. This is a major challenge, and because of this, the process has been difficult.

You once headed Tansa sanctuary as the deputy conservator of forests of the Thane wildlife division. In the 1990s, the area had two tigers and 14 leopards. Why is there no tiger or leopards now, and what efforts have been taken to take increase wildlife and protect the area?

A lot of land there has been encroached for agriculture. This created fragmentation in the sanctuary. Tigers were present years back, but when I was working there, there was no evidence of tigers. The absence of leopards was because of a lack of prey base. Hopefully, with the work that has been put in, the prey base can increase.

You were in-charge of Tadoba National Park where tiger population has increased leading to man-animal conflict. What’s the solution to this problem?

As per the estimation in 2018, the number of tigers in Maharashtra has increased to 312, of which 160 are in Chandrapur district alone. The conflict is because the animals look at cattle as prey.

To reduce man-animal conflict, we need to create more space within Tadoba and completely rehabilitate villages in and around Tadoba. Of six, four villages have been completely rehabilitated. This will increase prey base.

Similarly, villages on the fringe of Tadoba have to be relocated. There are tigers at the Chandrapur super thermal power station. It has good vegetation, and tigers are breeding well. There is a need to increase dispersal capacity so that tigers can go to Gadchiroli.

Sahyadri tiger reserve has low population of tigers. Are there plans to relocate these tigers?

No. We need to increase their prey base. We have got permission to shift Cheetal and Sambar from Sagareshwar Sanctuary and Rajiv Gandhi Zoo at Katraj. They will be released in a big enclosure in Chandoli National Park where they can breed. Then we can think of relocating these tigers.

In the past few years, there have been increased attacks on tigers and leopards in civilian areas. What action have you taken to prevent this?

Leopard attacks are increasing in Nashik and Ahmednagar because of their prolific breeding in sugarcane fields.

This is a problem. In Junnar, there was a huge problem of leopards. We conducted awareness programme and people were taught to co-exist.

Has the introduction of special tiger protection force helped in tackling poachers?

Yes. In 2015-16, there was organised poaching in Maharashtra. A campaign was launched to tackle this during which some people were apprehended. This put a halt to poaching. In Maharashtra, we have four companies of special tiger protection force that are a major deterrent to poachers. Besides, now each forest guard has to walk and do foot patrol for 40 km a week and upload this on an app.

In the past few years, tigers and leopards have been radio collared, what has been your observation about their movements?

We have not done much radio-collaring for leopards. But dispersal of tigers can be seen a lot.

One tiger walked for nearly 2,000km – from Tipeshwar sanctuary to Dynanganga sanctuary – in eight months, and we recorded his movement.

Large tracts of forest lands have gone for highway widening. We have many cases of wildlife being run over by traffic. Do you think we have failed to protect them?

We have not failed. We have improved mitigation measures. Usage of underpasses by animals has increased.

Even on Mumbai-Nagpur Super Communication Highway, we have taken over 1,700 mitigation measures to protect wildlife.

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