The state wildlife department will soon launch its tiger augmentation programme, a first-of-its-kind initiative in east India, that aims to protect and augment the fast-depleting tiger population at the Buxa Tiger Reserve in Alipurduar sub-division of Jalpaiguri. While the Detailed Project Report (DPR) has already been approved by the Centre, the department will now place the DPR before the State Board of Wildlife, which has the final word on the implementation of any wildlife protection project in the state.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden of the state, Ravi Kant Sinha, says the programme has been developed with the assistance of the Global Tiger Forum and the National Tiger Conservation Authority. “We will introduce the proposal at the next meeting on June 1. This is an extremely rare programme, which has not been tried often. We will be the third tiger reserve in the country to attempt this. The tiger population has been decreasing in Buxa over the past few years for a number of reasons. Inbreeding among the tigers here is one reason. The others, of course, include human incursions, shortage of food, and migration of tigers to other areas. We are looking to bring tigers from other reserves, not only to increase the actual population, but also to improve the gene pool of the tigers here,” says Sinha.
Buxa Tiger Reserve covers an approximate area of 760 sq km, under which 314 sq kms is the wildlife sanctuary, while the rest is a reserve forest. The forest department took over the area as far back as 1866, but it was only in 1983 that Buxa was notified as a wildlife sanctuary under Indian Wildlife Protection Act. There are 38 forest villages in Buxa, and 49 fringe villages, whose residents mainly work at the 40 tea gardens around Buxa.
“We have already conducted awareness campaigns here and consulted with the local population about bringing more tigers into the area,” said Sinha. Sinha pointed out that the programme has only been tried in two other sanctuaries in the country – at the Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan and the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh. The project was unsuccessful in Sariska, due in part to opposition from the local human population in and around the reserve and the ever-mushrooming towns near the sanctuary. Learning from Sarsika, the sanctuary management in Panna held extensive consultations with the local population before launching the project, which continues to this day. Therefore, Sinha said, it is imperative for the local population to support and become stakeholders in the project.