BARELY a day after the state forest department organised a lecture by noted wildlife biologist and researcher Ullas Karanth on “Tiger Ecology”, an event not exactly conforming with Karanth’s well-known exposition on “sink” population of tigers has come as a surprise. Karanth’s theory states that once a tiger moves out of a protected area such as a sanctuary or a reserve, its chances of survival fall sharply, and hence it can be counted among the population likely to ‘sink’. However, on Friday, a sub-adult tiger, popularly known as Nawab, was found to have travelled 135 km safely — from the Kalmeshwar-Kondhali forest range in Nagpur district to Pohra-Malkhed reserve forest in Amravati district — passing through patchy forest cover and human-dominated landscape.
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Nawab’s is not an isolated case. Over the past four years, several tigers have been known to travel from Vidarbha to as far as the Kawal sanctuary in Telangana, covering ground inhabited by humans and forests offering scant protection, lending strength to the theory that if passegeways are made safe enough, tigers venturing out of protected territory need not be considered part of the sink population.
Advocates of the sink theory believe that tigers falling in this category do not deserve the attention that the “source population” — animals within protected areas — do, as the resources available for tiger protection must be spent on animals with the best chance to survive.
The “safe” travelling of the so-called “sink” tigers to areas far away has in fact seen Vidarbha’s forest teem with tigers over the past few years, say forest officials. Today, areas not known to host tigers for many decades boast of significant tiger populations.
For example, Nawab belonged to the forest in the Katol-Kalmeshwar-Kondhali triangle in Nagpur district. The area earlier had no tigers, but is now home to seven, including a tigress with cubs. Also, the Tipeshwar sanctuary in Yavatmal district has seen a rise in tiger numbers from three about four years ago to 12 at present. In the Pandharkawda division near Tipeshwar, there are about eight resident tigers, all arrived in the past four years.
Most interesting, however, have been the stories of tigers being spotted in Gadchiroli of late. Over the past two months, stories of tigers, including breeding tigresses, have come from the Maoist-affected district, albeit in the form of poaching news.
According to forest officials, other new areas enriched with tigers thanks to big cats dispersing from the source are Tadoba, Pench, and even the small Bor wildlife sanctuary.
Karanth had, on Wednesday, stressed his well-known theory that conservationists need to focus on the source population and not bother much about the sink. He had also said that the increase in tiger population was a direct function of increase in prey base and was not affected much by other factors, including curbs on poaching.
Karanth’s view seemed to endorse the forest department’s position on Jai, the iconic tiger who went missing some months ago. Principal Chief Conservator of Forest Shri Bhagwan had then observed that as long as an area had a healthy tiger population on the whole, a single animal moving in or out should be seen as a natural phenomenon.
The forest department, however, has also been simultaneously claiming that the healthy tiger population is a result of a massive crack down on poachers in 2012-13, following a big poaching scandal that claimed more than 20 tigers in the region.
Bhagwan admitted that safe dispersal of tigers was important for genetic transfer from one area to another, as also to enrich uninhabited tiger areas. “But what the likes of Karanth probably mean about the sink population is that equal focus on them might result in a situation of intense man-animal conflict in human-dominated landscapes. In that respect, it is not exactly advisable to see their population rising above a certain level,” Bhagwan said.