` We need a land­scape ap­proach'

Down to Earth - - REVIEW -

Ra­jesh Gopal is sec­re­tary gen­eral, Global Tiger Fo­rum, an inter-govern­men­tal body to con­serve tigers. He was at the helm of Project Tiger for 14 years. Ex­cerpts from an in­ter­view How many tigers can sur­vive in the avail­able tiger land­scapes? We are near­ing the car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity with 2,226 tigers (mid-value). Stretch­ing on the higher side, even if we pack all our re­serves as per their car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity with ac­tive man­age­ment, we may be able to add an­other 500. More tigers mean more chal­lenges in the form of hu­man-tiger is­sues and spa­ces linked with cor­ri­dors. We need to be prac­ti­cal and should not project fancy ideas like "dou­bling the tiger num­ber". What steps can the gov­ern­ment take to se­cure pri­or­ity tiger land­scapes? We need a land­scape ap­proach. Tiger re­serves or pro­tected ar­eas can­not be viewed in iso­la­tion. Tiger is a species of meta-pop­u­la­tions, and thrives in `sources' and `sinks', gov­erned by its so­cial dy­nam­ics and land ten­ure pat­terns. This means we need good tiger-bear­ing forests within and out­side the tiger re­serves.

To en­sure this, we have to strengthen the tiger agenda in the core ar­eas by sup­port­ing pro­tec­tion, with other im­per­a­tives like vol­un­tary vil­lage re­lo­ca­tion, ca­pac­ity build­ing for staff, re­spon­si­ble tourism, smart pa­trolling, tiger mon­i­tor­ing and so on. This re­quires com­ple­men­ta­tion in the buf­fer and cor­ri­dor ar­eas with an in­clu­sive agenda which can pro­vide eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able liveli­hood op­tions to lo­cal peo­ple to re­duce their de­pen­dency on forests, avoid­ing de­vel­op­ment in cer­tain cor­ri­dor ar­eas, sec­toral in­te­gra­tion to ben­e­fit lo­cals and other stake­hold­ers, main­stream­ing tiger con­ser­va­tion in sec­tors where tiger is not the goal, on-site and off-site mit­i­ga­tions to ben­e­fit con­ser­va­tion, sup­port from cor­po­rate and pub­lic sec­tor for con­ser­va­tion, ca­pac­ity build­ing of front­line staff, day-to-day tiger mon­i­tor­ing and so on. Is there a fu­ture for smaller tiger re­serves, like Ran­tham­bore, which hardly have cor­ri­dor con­nec­tiv­ity? Yes of course, pro­vided they are linked to other source ar­eas through forests. Even a re­serve with more than 50 tigers may be­come ex­tinct if de­void of a cor­ri­dor. A low den­sity tiger area can last long if it has link­ages. In the case of Ran­tham­bore, its con­nec­tiv­ity with Kuno is cru­cial.

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