By Dr. Suhas Kumar
In November 2015, I received an email from my friend –Sh. R.Sreenivas Murthy. He had sent a comment made by some hotel owner that needed a reply urgently. The comment was in fact a statement that emphasized the importance of tourism for tiger conservation. In a way it propounded a theory that tiger breed prolifically when tourists are around, otherwise they simply vanish. Here is the letter from Murthy sahib –
“R/Sirs and dear all,
Namaste. I am here with reproducing the comment of Mr…. of B’;gargh if correct must be cause of concern, because I have seen 3 tigresses with total no of 9 cubs in the same area around the year 2000 and I consider and mention everywhere that Chakradhara is the best tiger nursery that can happen on the earth. Hence this fact need to be checked and a course correction need to be taken up immediately. I wonder why this issue never came up/brought up by the local forest officers in many a review meetings for which I was a witness both at Bhopal and NTCA meetings.’’
“Now can any of these experts will answer this question that since you put 20% regulations and restrictions on road then why Chakradhara meadow of Bandhavgarh do not have a resident Tigress since last three years? Experts Prove your worth here.”
In a way this comment, besides challenging the experts, hides a management theory- i.e. – “The Chakradhara area, which has been a primary breeding ground for tigers for so many decades when hordes of tourists were around, has become tigerless suddenly and not a single resident (breeding) female resides here? It may be because the restrictions placed on the movement of tourists. As in the absence of tourists the tigers suffered from a gnawing sense of loneliness and left Chakradhra. ’’
As I had never come across such an amusing theory, I decided to answer it in the modest way possible. Those of you who know Bandhavgarh intimately or have worked there are urged to offer your expert comments, too .
I replied to Murthy sahib, as follows-
“Bandhavgarh National Park was first notified under the erstwhile Madhya Pradesh National Park Act 1955 (No VII of 1955) covering an area of 105 sq. km. of Tala Reserved Forest Block on 23-03-1968. The area, though, declared a national park was then administered by the territorial division till 1981-82 and was no better than a normal territorial division reeling under adverse impact of grazing by a large number of livestock, MFP collection, frequent fires in the summer, drunkards and merrymakers and a good number of good and hopeless shikaris who used to rampage the park. A semblance of proper management began to emerge with the second notification of the National park in May 1982 under the Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972- covering a large area of 448.842 sq. km. The fresh notification added an area of 343.842 sq. km. to the existing National park.Unfortunately, for many more years that followed, only the original park area (105 sq. km) got the attention of the park managers while rest of the park continued to reel under severe biotic pressure. The restrictions put on grazing and entry into national park, augmentation of water sources, eradication of weed, patrolling by staff gradually helped the prey base to improve in Tala range and tigers started to occupy this area as in those times the connection with other natal areas were not so vitiated as it is now. Today, the connections between Kanha a and Bandhavgarh, Bandhav garh and Panna, Bandghavgarh and Sanjay are tenuous as huge dams, a cement factory and expanding townships and villages have created formidable barriers and fragmented the tiger habitat.
In Bandhavgarh, tourism in the earlier days was a free for all affair without any control -when Mr. Hasan took over as director of this in 1984, he decided to clean up the Seshsayya tank. The cleaning operation threw up a cartload of beer and liquor bottles . Till 1984, the tiger show was a planned activity as tigers were lured to Chkradhara maidan by tethering baits for them. This habituation made chakradhra as a favourite residence and breeding ground for tigers for a long time to come (i.e. till recently) . Later, tourism and tourist activities came under a scanner and the free for all situation was controlled to some extent but unlike Kanha tiger reserve, some politically cocooned owners of the hotels and lodges managed to take advantage of their clout, and the persecution of tiger by surrounding it by elephants and vehicles and holding it at one place against its will continued.
It was only after 2005 that the rest of the park began receiving adequate protection and a little management inputs.
The recent noteworthy change that has persuaded tigresses to find new breeding areas within the park is the availability of new undisturbed habitats within the park As several villages (Mili, Magadhi, Kalwaha, Kumarwaha) have been relocated, huge grasslands have come up, prey has dispersed and occupied these new habitats, some feral cattle left by villagers now form a part of the prey base – all these factors have given an opportunity to the tigers to occupy new areas and tigresses to breed in there. Tiger number has gone up in Bandhagarh national park is a known fact. Tigers of Badhavgarh find it difficult to survive in a situation of severe intraspecific competition and therefore they are occupying new areas within the core as well as outside the core. The Tigers of Bandhavgah travel far and wide – a good number of tigers have taken residence in the forests of the buffer zone and some others are roaming around in Katni division (and even dying there) besides some others have dispersed to Sanjay and became resident as the drastically improved management now ensures a safe habitat for a small number of tigers (Relocation of villages in coming years from Sanjay-Dubri TR will create more conducive habitats for chital to grow and increase the prey base for accommodating more tigers).
I hope the above narration explains why Chakradhara is no more the only preferred breeding ground for tigers. It is very foolish to propound a theory that ‘tourism’ in any way helps tiger to breed. A recent genetic study of DNA retrieved from tiger scats in Kanha and Bandhavgarh by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) indicates that in areas heavily visited by tourists the production of the stress hormone (cortoisol) increases. A tiger in stress has impaired reproductive abilities, hence the study reveals that continuous disturbance in tiger habitat is not good for tigers.The increase in tiger number and improvement of habitat and prey base is a result of hard labour of officers and staff and not at all because of tourism as some businessmen falsely claim. ‘’