Wildlife migration corridors from Ranthambhore

A few days ago I read the following news in the Times of India, one of India’s leading daily newspaper. It goes like this:

Tigers will now roar at Darrah

JAIPUR: After Ranthambore and Sariska, Darrah. Rajasthan is all set to get its third tiger reserve, and India its 39th, very soon. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has given its in-principle approval to the project at Darrah National Park, which is about 50 km from Kota.

State forest department officials said it was very likely that the first tiger would be relocated to the forests of Darrah by 2011.

The state government had submitted a proposal to the Centre for a tiger reserve at Darrah. NTCA has given its in-principle approval to it. The surplus tigers of Ranthambore will be translocated to Darrah after the area is declared a tiger reserve under Section 83 (v) of the Wildlife Protection Act 2006, said state forest and environment minister Ramlal Jat.

According to the minister, once declared a sanctuary, it will help form a large corridor connecting Sariska, Kota, Bundi and Ranthambore to Madhya Pradesh. This will not only take away the excess visitors from Ranthambore but also help Kota attract a large number of tourists, he said.

The Darrah National Park, also called the Rajiv Gandhi National Park, consists of three wildlife sanctuaries of Darrah, Chambal and Jaswant Sagar. It was declared a national park in 2004 and is spread over a total area of 250 km. It is separated from the Ranthambore national park by another 250 sq km stretch of Ramgarh Vishdhari Wildlife Sanctuary.

The park is the only one to have a perennial source of water from the Chambal Basin with the river running 4 to 5 metres deep in certain stretches.
(The Times of India, TNN 7 November 2009, 05:21am IST)

After reading this I did not know whether to laugh or cry.

The NTCA is in a rush to declare more and more forests as tiger reserves. The fact that a lot of the newly declared reserves, neither have any tiger nor any prey, does not seem to make any difference. Declaring the “Rajiv Gandhi National Park” as a tiger reserve would be really pushing it. In fact it would be a big joke.

The Rajasthan Forest Minister’s statement – “ The surplus tigers of Ranthambore will be translocated to Darrah after the area is declared a tiger reserve ………once declared a sanctuary, it will help form a large corridor connecting Sariska, Kota, Bundi and Ranthambore to Madhya Pradesh. This will not only take away the excess visitors from Ranthambore but also help Kota attract a large number of tourists” – is absolutely ridiculous.

What the minister does not know or did not state is:

1. Ranthambhore does not have surplus tigers : the current official figure is that there are 41 tigers in Ranthambhore tiger reserve. The Ranthambhore tiger reserve is 1334 square kilometers in area. Areas that have 10 or so tigers in 100 square kilometers is considered to be a high density area. By this logic 41 in 1334 square kilometers is not really high, so where do the surplus come from? The ral story is that out of the 1334 kms of Ranthambore tiger reserve – about half the area is the Kela Devi Sanctuary, about one fourth is the Ranthambore national park and most of the balance is the Sawai Mansingh snactuary. (See the map below). The 41 tigers are distributed in the entire tiger reserve as follows – Kela Devi has one, Sawai Mansingh has 5 or 6 and the national park has the rest. In other words, half of the entire tiger reserve just has one tiger and almost all the tigers are within the national park or the immediately adjoining part of the Sawai Mansingh sanctuary. It would be correct to say that the national park has a surplus of tigers but the same can not be said for the entire tiger reserve. In fact Sawai Mansingh sanctuary only gets tigers when there is a surplus inside the national park and Kela Devi sanctuary (which is nearly half the area of the total reserve) has hardly had any tigers in the last decade or so. Tiger do drift there from the national park but they do not last very long in this sanctuary, mainly because this sanctuary has very little prey and almost no protection.

2. There already is a corridor between Ranthambhore national park and Darrah wildlife sanctuary via the forests of Sawai Mansingh sanctuary, Lakheri, Talwas and Ramgarh sanctuary. Tiger in the past have gone all the way to Darrah and in the near future have been going till the forests of Lakheri. In reality this corridor is a death trap because in the last 10 years not a single tiger that drifted this way survived for long. There is very little prey and even less protection south of the Sawai Man Singh sanctuary. The adjoining forests of Madhya Pradesh (MP) are in an even worse state, in fact, this part of MP is the poaching heartland of India. Till about two decades ago this entire corridor was an excellent wilderness area. The last tigers of Darrah and Ramgarh died out without making any noise at all) in the early 1990s. Since then this corridor has been taking a thrashing at the hands of man. Right now the forest canopy still exists but the prey species (deer, wild pigs etc) are gone. There is a lot of cattle that the tiger can kill but that leads to conflicts with man, which are often lethal for the wild animal.

3. The above mentioned corridor has no links whatsoever with Sariska, which is a true “ecological island” with no scope at all for any inwards or outward migration of wild animals. For a tiger to get from Sariska to Ranthambhore, he will have to cross a very busy national highway, miles and miles of agricultural fields, numerous villages and at least three large towns besides a number of small ones. A really tough task for any tiger.

4. This will not only take away the excess visitors from Ranthambore but also help Kota attract a large number of tourists, said the minister. This is a pretty heavy price to pay to attract tourists to Kota.

What is needed is active and prolonged protection along this forested belt and it needs to be done now. A few years later may be too late. What is definitely not needed is to tranquilize a few tigers from inside Ranthambhore national park and fly them to Darrah Sanctuary and hope that they flourish there. Some of these tigers may have to turn vegetarian in Darrah since there is not enough meat on hooves there for them.

Don’t just take my word for it. Read what the Ranthambhore Project Tiger Management Plan 2001-2011 has to say about this (pasted below). The last para is the most interesting. (RTR means Ranthambhore tiger reserve and RNP is the Ranthambhore national park).

Ecological Boundaries:-
The flora and fauna of both Vindhyan and Aravalli hill ranges exist in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. The forests of both the ranges were continuous in the past but due to fragmentation of vegetation cover the RTR has become an ecological island.
The RNP adjoins Keladevi sanctuary in the N.E. separated by river Banas, but the river does not present any barrier for the wild life to cross over. The Keladevi sanctuary is linked to the forest areas of Dholpur through a continuous forest tract. The forests of Keladevi sanctuary are gradually improving with increased level of protection, ban on migratory sheep and participatory forest protection strategy adopted by the villagers in the form of “Kulhadi Band (ban on use of axe) Panchayat” under the guidance of forest department.

In the south west of the RNP, Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary & Kuwalji Closed Area extend up to river Chakal and beyond. The adjoining forest areas of Bundi further connects RTR to forest areas of Kota. Therefore, a whole corridor is available for the movement of wildlife provided the adjoining areas of Dholpur, Bharatpur, Bundi and Kota districts also gets adequate protection. In fact, the area mentioned above can be a contiguous area for the Tiger.

The river Chambal in South to South East of RTR and the river Banas in North East to South East of the RNP forms a seasonal barrier to the wildlife to migrate from one area to another but there are reports of occasional presence of non-resident wild dogs in RTR and migration of wild animals such as Tigers and Leopard in Keladevi Sanctuary from M.P. forest area crossing the Chambal river as per the indirect evidences gathered from the Maharaja of Karauli.

On all other sides, RTR is surrounded by agricultural revenue land but the abundant presence of Black buck, Chinkara, Blue Bull, Smaller cats, Jackals & Foxes in the agricultural fields indicate that there is no barrier to these mammals and the area as a whole is rich in wildlife. Even tigers and panthers are reported from the habitation areas like Chouth Ka Barwada & Bhagwatgarh, which are nearly 30 Kms from RTR.

We may say that a belt of 50 Kms width along the left banks of the river Chambal from Kota up to Dholpur can be considered as the ecological boundary for the Tigers and other wild life of RTR.

The description given above indicates that a large tract constitutes the ecological boundary of RTR, but the fact remains that with the degradation of forest area, expansion of agriculture fields and other land uses, the ecological boundary tends to limit up to RTR area only in a true sense.

View Rajasthan Wildlife Corridors in a larger map