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Friday, November 25, 2011

Bandhavgarh: Breeding tigers

The last nights telltale event was clearly etched on the soft jungle road. The sordid saga of survival in the tortured terrain of Bandhavgarh National Park. We followed the drag marks for a long distance till they crossed over into the dense forest.  

The predator had killed a chital doe and dragged it to the spot where her cubs were located. The struggle was evident, the drag marks formed a narrow strip of depression on the road turning and twisting in a bizarre fashion. The tigress had put it all in to take the dead prey all the way along to her cubs. 

Ignoring the bitter cold of early morning we waited at a spot at Churbohera Road in expectation. The kill was probably consumed and she was likely to emerge near the rivulet or her favorite perch next to it. After some time we decided to check the large slab of igneous rock which was her favored retiring place.     

We could see nothing till two cubs decided to play. The mother had carefully placed herself behind a clump of bamboo and the cubs stayed alongside her as she lay asleep. We could see the three little tigers about 3/4 months old but it was not possible to photograph them. Kankati had at last brought her cubs out of hiding, The challenging race for survival in the wilds had begun for the cubs, the tigress will mentor and tutor them for two years before making them independent.  This is necessary since this predator is a solitary animal and does not live in pair or a pride.

It was heartening to see the cubs as they loitered around close to their mother. I had seen small cubs before but after a gap of ten years perhaps. The spectacle is a memorable event, the cubs threw a cautious inquisitive glance at us and quickly retracted behind the bamboo. The hide and seek game went along for some time before they vanished out of sight alongside their mother. They where probably seeing humans and their bizarre contraption for first time since birth.

We were on tiger safari at Bandhavgarh National Park - me and my French group.  We saw more than the tigers - birds and mammals - a successful nature photography tour. Bandhavgarh is a prime tiger habitat in Central India with high rate of success in breeding. I could find evidence of about sixteen cubs in the park during my visit from 20th November to 23rd November. A new generation of tigers was emerging in this nature preserve auguring hope for the survival of its race. Sound policies, effective protection and positive conservation may fetch this species from jaws of extinction in the country.   

There was a mother with four cubs at Tala Zone on a kill. We could hear the squealing and mock fights but failed to see them. A just delivered litter of four was discovered in Magdhi Range besides sighting of tigress with three cubs probably 6/7 month old. Three cubs were seen on Mahaman Road by the guards. 

There may be more breeding tigresses in this little paradise. This augurs hope for the tiger's survival in India - thanks to good conservation measures. The topography of this park provides excellent security and privacy to the tigers besides a good pray base. Most of the hillocks in the preserve are inaccessible and provide safe breeding grounds for the pregnant females. Unfortunately there is disturbance in the buffer and the periphery of the core due to number of villages and livestock.     

Inbreeding threat exists in all the tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh since they are no more interconnected with each other. A viable corridor is a must for gene transfer, this relates to all reserves in India.    

Mining Menace India

After the recent news of coal mining in the Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra it becomes clear about the governments priority as far as tiger conservation is concerned. The coals mines on the periphery of the reserve posse a threat to the habitat of tigers. To make matters worse new coal mining permission has been allotted by the Union Government in Chandrapur.    

Illegal mining in critical tiger habitats in India is posing a major threat. A strong will is desired to  get rid of this menace.  Sariska and Buxa are prime examples.

This reminds one of brick kiln menace around the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Diamond mining around the Panna National Park and so on. Large amount if forest tract come under the axe for development projects in India. 

The major threat to tigers in India has always been the loss of habitats and not poaching. The tiger needs forests with dense cover to survive. The reserved forests in India are badly managed and subject to tremendous biotic pressure and timber smuggling. Most of the forests outside the protected areas do not harbor any wildlife and the big cats have been exterminated by local poachers and the reducing habitat. About 5000 crore lingers unspent due to lack of decision making and legal tussle. This fund meant for forest regeneration schemes.