The Royal Bengal Tiger is known to live in a wide variety of habitats in the Subcontinent. Its roar can be heard in moist evergreen forests, dry and coniferous forests, mangroves, subtropical and temperate upland forests and alluvial grasslands. Now, a study by researchers of the Wildlife Institute of India has found these majestic creatures in the snow-capped regions of the Eastern Himalaya. The study that began about three years ago has recorded 11 tigers in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley. The Namdapha National Park in the state is known to be the country’s only reserve to have four big cat species — the tiger, leopard and the severely endangered clouded and snow leopards. But the park is in the lower reaches of the Himalaya. Their presence at 3,246m and 3,630m in the Dibang Valley is the evidence of tiger at the highest altitude in the Indian part of the Eastern Himalayas — the animals have been found at an altitude of more than 4,000m in Bhutan.
A large part of the Dibang Valley is home to the Mishmi tribes. The presence of the big cats in an area which is not even a tiger reserve is, in large measure, a tribute to the ways the Mishmi people have found to co-exist with the animals. The cosmology of this tribal group hold tigers to be in special relationship with humans. Killing the animal is deemed fratricidal.
But the discovery of the species should also alert conservation authorities to new challenges. The Dibang Valley tiger is reportedly genetically isolated from the other variety of the species in Arunachal Pradesh. Inbreeding could jeopardise the prospects of an already fragile population. The story of the newly-discovered tigers is also complicated by the fact that the rivers in the Valley are slated to be harnessed for hydropower projects. The good news is that conservation authorities are alert to some of the challenges, at least. Talks are underway to understand the genetic difference of the Dibang tigers with that of other varieties of the species in Arunachal.