MUMBAI: As cheetahs from Namibia adjust to their new home in Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, the Maharashtra Government is set to launch the relocation of another big cat, the tiger.
The tigers will be relocated from Chandrapur district to Nawegaon Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR), situated in Gondia and Bhandara districts in the north-eastern corner of the state.
The translocation is being undertaken in technical collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). It will be the first such scientific relocation of the tiger in the state. The aim is to reduce tiger populations in areas with excess tigers, bring down man-animal conflict and also reintroduce tigers in areas which have poor numbers of these carnivores.
Senior officials from the Maharashtra Forest Department said they had secured necessary permissions from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, on September 15 for this project, which has been on the drawing board for a while.
Sunil Limaye, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), said this will be the first such conservation translocation in Maharashtra. The plan is to shift four to five young female tigers from the Bramhapuri forest division to the NNTR for scientific population management. “We will first release two individuals, monitor them and once they settle down, release the others,” he explained. The success of this project will open possibilities of tigers from congested landscapes being transferred to areas like NNTR and the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve, which have low numbers of these carnivores.
The number of tigers in the Vidarbha landscape has increased to 396 in 2021 from 331 in 2020. Chandrapur district has around 60 per cent of these, leading to humananimal conflict and territorial fights between the animals.
Another Forest Department official said that Brahmapuri had 50 adult tigers and 25 each of sub-adults and cubs. This is more than several tiger projects in the country. It caters to the spill-over population from the neighboring Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR).
Apart from a fragmented landscape, Brahmapuri has around 610 villages, of which many are located in proximity to the jungles, exacerbating conflict between humans and animals. The official added that in the past three years, around 35 human mortalities had been reported.
In contrast, NNTR has just around eight tigers, of which five are females. Despite its 1,894.94 sq. km area across five protected areas in Bhandara and Gondia districts, the habitat has a low density of resident tigers. It is connected to tiger reserves like Tadoda, Pench and Kanha and tiger-bearing areas like Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh for genetic dispersal. It however has a good prey base and a healthy population of co-predators like leopards and dhole.
“While Bramhapuri has no space for tigers leading to man-animal conflicts and territorial fights… the ratio of male and female tigers in the NNTR is skewed,” explained Limaye. Officials said the ideal or healthy ratio of male tigers to female tigers is 1:3. This helps keep the aggression of males in check and reduces territorial fights between them.
The tigresses will be radio-collared and released into the core area of the NNTR. Their GPS locations will be monitored through a control room and a team will also track them physically on a 24X7 basis. Thus, they will be under surveillance offline and online till they settle down. According to the 2018 tiger census, Maharashtra has 312 tigers, which is a rise from 190 in 2014 and 168 in 2010. It also has six tiger projects—TadobaAndhari, Pench, Melghat, Nawegaon Nagzira, Bor and Sahyadri.