As the rehabilitation and re-settlement issue of 30 villages in the buffer area of the Madhya Pradesh’s Ratapani Wildlife sanctuary — which is all set to be declared as tiger reserve — lingers on, around 12 big royal cats frequently straying out of the 900 sq km of the protected area will have to wait for some more time to get the designated home.
However, the delay has left them vulnerable to human-animal conflict and poaching, which the State is already witnessing. Till this date this year, 23 tigers have died in the State.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Wildlife Warden, Dr U Prakasham told The Pioneer that to begin with we have decided to notify the 850 sq km of the protected area as tiger habitat. Unless locals of the 30 villages living on the fringes (buffer zone) of the sanctuary are relocated, we are not planning to include the 2,000 sq km of buffer zone.
He also said a proposal seeking higher re-settlement amount of Rs 20 lakh has been sent to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), up from present Rs 10 lakh.
While a panel set up to deliberate on higher re-settlement amount is taking its own time to take any decision, the NTCA has sought declaration of entire 850 sq km protected area and the 2,500 sq km buffer zone as tiger habitat to ensure new space for straying striped felines, securing their natural corridors. A senior official from the NTCA said that striped cats are usually fiercely territorial and mark their large home ranges. Many are straying outside the core habitat, resulting in man-animal conflict and threat of poaching.
“We have asked the State Government to declare the area of about 3,500 sq km of Raisen, Sehore and Bhopal districts for tiger reserve including Ratapani and Singhori wildlife sanctuaries in Raisen and Sehore districts in view of a growing tiger population, resulting in several tigers straying into Kerva and Kaliasote forests of Bhopal. There are 24-28 tigers in the Ratapani wildlife sanctuary, 40 km from Bhopal, and around 12 have strayed from the area.
The State had received an approval for the same from the NTCA, 11 years ago.
“Having good availability of water sources, prey base and breeding places, the area is favorable for the tiger population. The facilities will be improved after notification as good budget allocation will be received from the center,” Prakasham said.
Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey added, “After being notified as a tiger reserve, the layers of security in the area will be increased.”
In 2008, the NTCA had given its approval for the ‘in-principle’ change. However, the file remained in cold storage as in January 2016, the then BJP-led state government had said they were not willing to convert it into a tiger reserve. The scenario changed when the new government headed by Congress leader Kamal Nath, agreed to implement the NTCA proposal, albeit halfheartedly.
Madhya Pradesh now boasts of having maximum number of tigers in the country, having lost this status to Karnataka in 2010. In the latest Tiger Census 2018, the state regained its number one spot recording 526 striped felines. However, dispersing big cats remain an issue with nearly 80 tigers reported dead in past one and a half years in the State.