Tiger Day 2021: Kerala sees surge in cat population
"Only forest brings solace in my life and within it no other animals could amaze me as tigers do. I spend my off days walking to spot them," says Sreenivasan, who was honoured as the best watcher in tiger monitoring by National Tiger Conservation Authority. His parents had come from Theni- Kambam region to Kerala. From childhood onwards, Sreenivasan was curious to know about the royal striped giants in the forest.
Usually sightings of tigers are very rare as they always try to avoid human presence. But within 21 years of service, Sreenivasan had more than 2000 sightings. His sheer dedication and devotion towards the big cats helped him realise this rare accomplishment. In a day he walks 50 to 60 kilometres in the Parambikulam Tiger reserve.
“The tigers in Parambikulam know me well. They are comfortable in my presence and I can accurately predict their movements,” says Sreenivasan.
The success story of Kerala in preserving these top carnivores of our forest ecosystem has been achieved through efforts of many forest officials like Sreenivasan. The entire nation exhibits a remarkable increase in the number of tigers despite its fastest growing population. India is home to more than 80 percent tigers in the world with 50 tiger reserves in 2.21 percent of India’s geographical area. When Project Tiger started in 1973, only nine tiger reserves were there in the country.
A great contribution to the success in this field was from Kerala. Periyar Tiger reserve proves this by bagging the award for best management of Tiger reserve. Since the adoption of Project Tiger, several crucial steps have been taken by the forest department to expedite the population of tigers in the state.
Project Tiger Field Director K R Anoop said that several estates in Nelliyampathy were acquired and added to Parambikulam Tiger reserve. Likewise, 67 hectares were added to the land of Periyar wildlife sanctuary too. A male tiger requires 20 to 100 sq kms as its own territory, while females need 20 to 40 kms, says Sreenivasan. In the case of Parambikulam, two tigers can be seen in even one sq km area with ample water and prey strength. Thus Kerala has a tiger population beyond its real capacity.
Major population of tigers in Kerala are concentrated in the Wayanad Wildlife sanctuary which is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve. This region is the trijunction of Nagarhole and Bandipur National Park in north east of Wayanad sanctuary and Mudumalai Tiger reserve of Tamil Nadu in its south east. “According to the latest census of 2018, there are almost 120 tigers in Wayanad, an increase of 35 tigers compared to the 2016 census”, said K Shajiv, Deputy Range Officer of Peruvannamuzhi forest station.
The man eater’s in the streak
K Shajiv says that the tigers are normally calm and usually they pace gently through their own territory. Certain rare incidents come off where they intrude into nearby villages and harm the cattle and humans. In most cases this happens because of the tiger’s aging or tooth fall. Hence, it is not right to mention them as ‘man eaters’.
Earlier in 2013, a tiger was shot and killed in Bathery when it caused a great commotion for almost a month. After the death of the tiger it was found that the tiger was compelled to come out of the forest due to a wound on its arm and loss of its tooth.
Efforts of Kerala in tiger conservation
Kerala’s approach towards tiger conservation has never been tourism oriented due to the deep forest and hilly terrains in which the tigers roam. The elephants in Kerala forest also pose a threat to jeep safaris here.
After 2000, tourism was initiated on a limited scale at Periyar and the authorities decided to use the fund raised through tourism for the development of the tiger reserve itself. This programme was named as Periyar Foundation.
“An interesting project taken up by the forest officers of Thekkady is the rewilding of an abandoned tiger cub. We expect to release the cub back to the forest within two years. Though a similar mission had been adopted in Kanha Tiger reserve of Madhya Pradesh before, such an attempt is first in South India”, said K R Anoop.
Tiger census in Kerala
The numbers of tigers are estimated through camera trapping using a grid map. The officials note the different tigers by considering their stripes. The stripes on the tigers will be different to each just like the fingerprints of humans. They also sort data with the help of scrap marks tigers leave in their territories.
As per the latest census of 2018, Kerala occupies 166 to 215 tigers. The number varies as there is no fencing or demarcation between the forests of the different states.
A wildlife photographer and martial arts expert Naseer NA is a regular visitor of tiger reserves in the state.
“They guard our forested ecosystems, provide climate security and enrich the adjacent villages”, says Naseer. He opines that the tigers need undisturbed tracts and ample prey strength to survive. The forests shall be free from all kinds of human intrusions. Government should spend more for them and also offer a better salary and facilities to the guards, he added.