The Terai Arc Landscape (TAL ) or the Shivalik Gangetic plain has been identified as the most promising landscape for longterm tiger conservation. This project focuses on in the western TAL , specifically the Rajaji-Corbett Tiger Conservation Unit (RCTCU). The landscape consists of a matrix of protected areas such as the Corbett Tiger Reserve and Rajaji National Park interspersed between multiple use forests. A part of this landscape, though having high tiger density, is not managed from a wildlife conservation perspective. This landscape is vulnerable to threats of poaching, illegal tree felling, livestock grazing and other threats to tiger survival.
Tiger populations within the Protected Areas in the western TAL have been well documented in the past. Long-term monitoring of larger inter-connected habitats at a landscape scale instead provides valuable information on tiger population dynamics as well as informing conservation planning initiatives – such as the protection of critical habitat corridors. With this in mind, the present study, which began in 2012, has three objectives: (a) To establish baseline data and monitor changes in abundance of tiger, co-predators and their prey within and outside PA s; (b) To support government led law enforcement and protection through capacity building, equipping and training NGO-led field teams known as Special Operation Groups (SO G); and (c) To document and establish baseline data on human-large carnivore conflict in the landscape.
Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh
Dibang Valley lies in the Northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The valley spans 9,500 km2 and is the ancestral homeland of the Idu Mishmi community. The area is 95% forested, largely community owned and characterized by extremely low human population density (<1person/km2), with almost all Idu villages located along the only road passing through the valley. Idus keep a semi-domesticated form of gaur (wild cattle) called mithun. Mithun are allowed to range freely in the forest and are thought to constitute an important prey for tigers. Since tigers are culturally highly significant for Idu people, their tolerance of mithun depredation is thought to be much higher than would otherwise be expected.
Overall, Dibang Valley’s stable community land tenure system, legal restrictions on access to outsiders and strong forestbased cultural beliefs are credited with preserving significant populations of tigers and prey in this remarkable ecosystem. However, large scale development and the arrival of outsiders now pose major threats. In response, efforts began in 2014 to assess the status of tigers and prey in the valley, and to test the feasibility of implementing a locally adapted version of the Tigers Forever protocol for the long-term protection of the area. The current project’s specific goals are: (a) produce baseline density estimates of tigers and their principal prey, (b) identify a core zone for future protection, (c) understand traditional ways of wildlife protection, (d) assess direct threats to tigers using a SMART based protocol and indirect threats stemming from development and cultural change.
Manas National Park
Created in 1973 under India’s Project Tiger, Manas Tiger Reserve (MTR ) is composed of a string of 18 protected areas along the Himalayan foothills of Indo-Bhutan. The reserve extends across 2,837 km2 with Manas National Park (500 km2) providing the ‘core’, with adjoining wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests making up the buffer.
The MTR lies within the traditional homeland of the Bodo tribal community. In 1989, a local Bodo insurgent group started a heavily armed struggle demanding a separate state for the Bodo people. This intense conflict lasted 10 years and led to the near total destruction of Manas’ wildlife populations and protected area infrastructure. The MTR was reported to hold 90 tigers and a few hundred rhinos but by the time the peace accord was signed in 2003, it had lost all of its rhinos and all but a handful of tigers. The Bodoland Territorial Council (BT C) was created in 2003 as a result of the peace accord and is a special autonomous political entity that now governs the region. To revive Manas, 14 local NGOs were formed with the support of the BT C government. These NGOs divided up their resources across MTR and initiated a wide range of biodiversity conservation and ecotourism. In the past 11 years (2003-present), Manas has begun to recover; camera trapping conducted in 2012 revealed at least 18 tigers in the core area. However, despite improving protection and management, the tigers of Manas are still under threat from poachers targeting the cats and their prey. To support the efforts to save Manas, Panthera partnered with Aaranyak, a local NGO, in 2014, to develop a Tigers Forever protection and monitoring plan for the National Park. Under this project, Panthera provides technical support and camera traps for the annual tiger camera trapping efforts in Manas, and we are now working to bolster frontline tiger protection efforts with NGO field teams, working alongside Forest Department staff in joint patrols to protect the National Park.
The Western Ghats of Karnataka span approximately 22,000 km2 and currently contain 20 protected areas (PA s) that, collectively, safeguard ~10,000 km2 of wildlife habitat. This landscape supports the world’s largest contiguous population of wild tigers (~300) and, remarkably, the protected area network continues to grow. Recently, the Karnataka state government, in collaboration with civil societies, expanded the region’s PA network by nearly 2,600 km2, the largest expansion in India since the 1970s.
Given the scope to continue expanding this remarkable protected area complex, Panthera has been working with the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) since 2012 with three primary objectives:
- To support the official protection of areas that directly link reserves, parks and other wildlife areas, i.e. the preservation of habitat corridors between PAs.
- To support government initiatives to increase the size of existing protected areas by adding adjacent areas of productive wildlife habitat.
- To support the creation of new PA s, with priority placed on those that are sufficiently large to ultimately support significant tiger and prey populations in their own right.
Tigers Forever is currently being carried out in this country and five others: