Tracking the Tiger Footprints of Nagzira on this Global Tiger Day
Yet another Global Tiger Day and officials and enthusiasts have come together to spread the awareness and appeal for conservation of the most beautiful big cat species in the world. Various programmes have been organized at many places and many events are being celebrated with fanfare.
For me, it’s time to retrospect and look back what we achieved and what we lost as a member of a community residing in the heartland of tigers. There are 5 tiger reserves surrounding the Bhandara district and that makes it a critical habitat for tigers. The recent migrations and movements of tigers from one forest area to the other has established the fact that this region is a vital corridor for tiger population in central India landscape. A lot of tiger experts are already voicing their concern over conservation. I will not talk about tigers in general here but some lesser known tigers of Nagzira.
Despite the rising number of detection in poaching cases near Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Pench TR and Umred Karhandla Paoni TR (et. al.), there is a steady and significant growth in tiger population and that is the only solace to celebrate this Global Tiger Day. (Though counting the tiger deaths gives me a feeling of grim irony!).
Uniqueness of Nagzira forest
Zooming in on my home turf- the Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR) landscape, I am still hopeful of better days. The time will come a full circle and Nagzira will bounce back again. The park has seen its tiger numbers increasing more than the double in less than 2 years. Many ‘tiger tourists’ question the validity of presence of tigers based on the number of ‘sightings’ in this park. However, my first point in defense of NNTR is that tourists don’t come for seeing tigers here. They come here for beautiful jungle, unique landscapes and their attachment to the place. Tiger sightings are not guaranteed in Nagzira, but whenever there is a tiger sighting, it’s like a jackpot. Nagzira boasts of other species that can be seen quite frequently here as compared to other nearby reserves. The Dhole in old Nagzira and the sloth bear in Koka are representative species in this landscape. Nevertheless, birding here is a different affair altogether.
Golden Days of Nagzira
The reputation of the NNTR had suffered a severe damage back in 2013 after only five of its resident tigers were captured in camera trap phase 4 exercise. These five tigers included the dominant furious male Dendu, tigresses A-mark and Alpha and the semi-adult cubs of Alpha. The situation worsened after migration of Jay- the 2010 litter of A-mark and one of the iconic tigers of India who inhabited the Umred Karhandla Sanctuary for some time before allegedly getting poached there. Not to forget Viru, who reportedly migrated to Pench landscape in Madhya Pradesh. Though Nagzira had seen legendary tigers like Shamsher aka Rashtrapati and A-mark, the migration had skewed the tiger sex ratio that further dwindled up tiger numbers in NNTR. As Rashtrapati and Dendu went missing the following year, the death of A-mark or Mai tigress was the lowest ebb.
Eventually, the recent data has corroborated the presence of tigers in all five of its subdivisions. Movements of three tigers in Navegaon and New Nawegaon, five in and around Koka and three in old Nagzira region has turned out to be a beginning of revival of tigers in NNTR landscape. The formation of Koka wildlife sanctuary has provided new breeding areas to the tigresses like Alpha and Mastani. The disturbance of infiltrating humans has decreased. (Protection work in Koka WLS area is a hell of a task, hats off to excellent forest management efforts by Wildlife Wing led by able officers in recent years). The vegetation has improved affecting the bio-diversity of the landscape positively. The improved habitat can result in reverse migration of the apex predators in the region.
Strengthen the Corridors
However, there is an urgent need to strengthen and protect the established corridors. Topographically, Nagzira holds a crucial position in central India landscape. The recent study of migration shows that the NNTR landscape is well connected to Kanha, Pench, Tadoba and Paoni landscapes and the routes of migration do exist among these areas. Some of these areas do have a limited access to public throughout the year, and regular sightings of Tiger, Leopards and other species are reportedly seen in these protected areas. There is a need to shift focus on these corridors and fringe areas. Unless we strengthen our corridors, the core will not get secured completely.
Breathtaking view of NNTR landscape from the watch tower atop Chanditibba in Gaikhuri hills in NNTR.