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Connecting Wildlife Corridors

Looking Beyond Ranthambhore

Jimmy Borah (jborah@wwfindia.net), Sunny Shah, Joseph Vattakaven, Sitaram Taigor and Ravi Singh are with World Wildlife Fund India, New Delhi.

Tigers from Ranthambhore National Park move through degraded and fragmented forest patches and agricultural fields to reach Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Madhav National Park—two of the most important corridors in the Western India Tiger Landscape. We present the challenges and possible solutions to mitigate threats for these corridors, often overlooked in favour of larger sanctuaries and forest areas.

Acknowledgement - We wish to thank all the frontline forest staffs of the different protected areas for their help, knowledge and dedication in protecting this beautiful and vital tiger landscape. We salute their untiring efforts. Thanks to Sailaja Nayak and the team WITL , WWF-India for providing their views from the landscape. Thanks to Vaishais Uppal, Yash Magan Sethia from WWF, and AJT Johnsingh and PK Sen for their comments and inputs to make the document better. We are grateful to G Areendran, Shashank Srinivisan and the IGCMC for drafting the maps.

To effectively manage human wildlife conflict in key landscapes, it becomes imperative that the areas and habitats outside the “core tiger reserve” are also provided equal attention and managed properly. Many such areas are present in the 30,000 sq km of Western India Tiger Landscape (WITL), within Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Western India Tiger Landscape (Sunny Shah)

WITL has a network of Protected Areas (PAs) that includes two tiger reserves, namely Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve (RTR) and Mukandara Hills Tiger Reserve (MHTR). Other national parks (NP) and wildlife sanctuaries (WLS) in the landscape are Kailadevi WLS, Sawai Mansingh WLS, Kwalji WLS, Kuno-Palpur WLS, Madhav NP, National Chambal WLS, Ramgarh-Vishdhari WLS, Ghatigaon WLS, Van Vihar (Dhaulpur) and the Karera Bustard WLS. Some of these are well connected with forested habitat, while some others are disjointed.

Ranthambhore’s Tigers

The importance of protecting corridors and surrounding landscapes in order to enable animal movement has been extensively studied and highlighted. RTR harbours a healthy population of tigers vital in national strategies for tiger conservation. Adequate protection and better management have so far ensured the survival of tigers in Ranthambhore, which is connected to its neighbouring PAs with forested blocks, ravines, river streams, gorges, crop lands and multiple use land.

Ranthambhore Landscape (Sunny Shah)

Connectivity to the north and south of RTR is through the gorges, forest blocks, Banas River tributaries and linear forest blocks on hills. Towards the north-western side of Ranthambhore, five rivers and six tributaries of river Chambal provide passages for tigers to easily move towards the Kuno Palpur WLS. The dispersal of surplus tigers from Ranthambhore, to these adjacent forests through existing habitat corridors is very much desired (Jhala et al 2007) to maintain the gene pool.

There have been frequent reports of individual tigers dispersing out into neighbouring forests of Kailadevi WLS, Kuno-Palpur WLS and Madhav NP through the highly fragmented and human populated areas. Kuno-Palpur WLS is about 100 km (8 -10 km arial distance between the nearest boundaries) to the south-east of RTR in Madhya Pradesh (Figure 1). Kuno Wildlife Division, spread over an area of 1280 sq km, has been identified and prepared as a second home of the Asiatic lion, after Gir National Park indicating good prey availability (Johnsingh et al 2007).

A further 100 km to the east is the 354 sq km Madhav NP, rich in ungulates and avifauna. At a considerable risk of human conflict and poaching, tigers from RTR move through degraded and fragmented forest patches and agricultural fields to reach either of these two forests. Currently, one male tiger at Kuno and a female tigress with two cubs at Madhav have been reported. We present here a brief on challenges and possible interventions to mitigate threats for these areas with potential to sustain tiger and its prey population for a long term.

Fig   Map showing location of Ranthambhore NP, Kailadevi WLS,  Kuno-Palpur WLS and Madhav NP, along with other protected areas in WITL.

Kailadevi Wildlife Sanctuary

Kailadevi WLS is the northern extension of the Ranthambhore National Park and is part core and part buffer zone of the RTR. The sanctuary is located in the Karauli district of Rajasthan and falls within the Karauli and Sapotra blocks. It is spread over a total area of 674 sq km.

The WLS is bounded on the west by the river Banas and on the south by the river Chambal. The forest area that comprises the sanctuary is home to several pastoral and agricultural communities who are dependent substantially on its resources for their livelihood.

Kailadevi Landscape (Sunny Shah)

The vegetation is of the dry deciduous type with a predominance of Anogiesus pendula, locally known as dhok. There are three altitudinal levels of the sanctuary and the vegetation types are distinct in those. In the uppermost tabletop area there is an abundance of dhok. In the lower tabletop there is a predominance of Euphorbia sp. and jharber (Zizyphus numularia). The lowermost level comprises mostly ravines with flat land near the banks of the river Chambal mostly having chakwa (Anogeisus pendula), babul/kikar (Acacia nilotica) and Vilayati babul (Prosopis juliflora).

The terrain is characterised by some valleys and river gorges, locally referred to as khos. Apparently due to higher moisture retention and cooler temperatures, these khos are considered very suitable habitats for wildlife and nurture a wide variety of flora and fauna. The fauna commonly reported from this area includes nilgai, sambar, chitals, chinkara, striped hyena, wolves, sloth bears and Indian porcupine, among a host of other species.

Transient tigers have occasionally been reported from Kailadevi who use the area to disperse across the landscape. The most recent tiger was reported during the month of November 2014 when a tiger dispersing from Ranthambhore was traced here. The individual was identified as T-71, cub of tigress T-30 by forest department and World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-India.

Forest Grazing and Mines

The presence of more than 50 villages in the critical tiger habitat (CTH) is creating tremendous pressure on the natural resources such as fodder, fuel wood, non-timber forest produce and timber for agriculture and house construction within the sanctuary. Most of the villages are multi-caste in their composition compromising predominantly of Meenas and the Gujjar’s. On an average, the number of cattle heads per family varies between four and 15. The cattle are of the local variety. Some communities like Bairva also keep goats and sheep. All the local communities set up cattle camps in the forest areas and are dependent on the fodder resources from the sanctuary. Timber collection, fodder extraction, grazing of livestock and fuel wood collection are therefore major threats.

A socio-economic status report of the local communities would be helpful to engage more closely with local communities. Initiating an interim relief programme for the villagers against depredation of livestock by large carnivores could be an entry point activity.

Although most of the mining activities are banned inside the sanctuary, there are number of mines operating around and very close to the sanctuary. The area is rich in shale and sandstone, which is extensively mined in this part of Rajasthan. Illegal mining activities are rampant in the forests adjoining the sanctuary.

There have been occasional instances and reporting of poisoning of animals from the area. Local communities have reported that there have been occasions when they have heard gunshots at night. The forest department however does not believe that there are any significant threats to wildlife from poachers in the area.

Two species in particular are threatened—vultures and the Indian wolf. A regular survey of the vulture population should be carried out by the forest department. The department could also consider compensating the villagers against possible depredation of livestock by wolves, so that they could be taken into confidence.

Chambal River Stretch

In WITL, riverine ecosystem habitats also support tiger dispersal towards neighbouring protected areas from Ranthambhore. The drainage area created by river Chambal is one of the best examples of such an ecosystem. The National Chambal Sanctuary (NCS) is among the most important and significant habitats where several globally threatened fauna still survive.

National Chambal Sanctuary at Pali where Chambal and Parvati river confluence (Sitaram Taigor)

Around 350 km stretch of river Chambal falls in WITL, while other rivers includes Mez, Kali sindh, Parban, Parvati, Banas and Kuno.  This river sanctuary forms a vital corridor and link for the movement and dispersal of tiger from the source population at Ranthambhore TR to the PAs of Kuno-Palpur WLS, Madhav NP and Mukandara hills TR.

Despite being one of the last remnant rivers in the greater Gangetic Drainage Basin to have retained significant conservation values, the Chambal River faces severe extractive and intrusive pressures for resources. Much of the Chambal basin has been influenced by a long history of human occupation. Anthropogenic influences are chiefly in the form of dams, sand-mining, cultivations along the shore, fishing and other domestic activities. The Chambal River also suffers severe hydrological modifications from water impoundment and extraction (Nair and Krishna 2013).

The Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) and Gangetic River Dolphins (Platanista gangetica) are the flagship species in the region. It contains the most viable breeding populations of the critically endangered gharial and red-crowned roofed turtle (Batagur kachuga). It is also among the most important strongholds of the Deccan Mahaseer (Tor khudree), Putitor Mahaseer (Tor putitora), narrow-headed soft shell Turtle (Chitra indica), three striped roofed Turtle (Batagur dhongoka), Indian Skimmer (Rynchops albicollis), Black-bellied Tern (Sterna acuticauda) and Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) (Taigor and Rao, 2010a; Nair and Krishna 2013). The NCS also serves as among the best over-wintering sites for migratory birds.

Protecting a Riverine Ecosystem

Increasing demand for water from the surrounding human habitations is the greatest threat to the Chambal. It faces severe extractive and disturbing pressures in the form of dams, water impoundment and abstraction, sand and stone mining, infrastructural development, water pollution, over-fishing, poaching, livestock grazing, riparian chemical agriculture related activities and water diversion (Taigor and Rao 2010b; Nair and Krishna 2013).

The government should explore the option of purchasing revenue lands on river Chambal. These lands can be handed over to forest department to stop the land use change in Chambal basin. For this, a list of revenue land area along the Chambal River banks should be prepared having potential Gharial habitats.

Also a proposal for studying fish diversity in National Chambal Sanctuary should be prepared and carried out immediately along with biodiversity survey of National Chambal Sanctuary in the Rajasthan stretch. A detailed floristic study of Chambal ravines, an important forest sub-type (the ravine thorn forest) would be helpful in understanding the watershed regime in its catchment.

Alongside this, the “Chambal River and Ravine Arc” should be created to ensure landscape connectivity within the PA network in the Chambal Basin. The park authorities should also seek recognition from the World Heritage Convention and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance for NCS.

Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary

Kuno-Palpur is connected to the Ranthambhore National park and Kailadevi WLS (both part of the Ranthambhore TR) through good forest patches towards the northwestern boundary from across the river Chambal (Jhala et al. 2008). Covering a core area of 347 sq km, it is located in the Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh. The river Kuno flows through the sanctuary. On its south-eastern side of the boundary, Kuno forms a contiguous forest landscape with patchy connectivity to Panna Tiger Reserve through the Shivpuri forest area.

Kuno Sanctuary (Sitaram Taigor)

The Kuno sanctuary consists of dry deciduous forests interspersed with grasslands. Khair (Acacia catechu), salai (Boswellia serrata), ghunja (Lannea grandis), kardhai (Anogeissus pendula), dhwada (Anogeissus latifolia), reonjha (Acacia leucocephloea) are the dominant species found in the sanctuary.

The prey species is represented by chital, sambar, barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), chinkara (Gazella gazella), blue bull (Tragocamelus bosalaphus), chowsingha (Tetracerus quardricornis), blackbuck (Antelope cervicapra) and wild pig (Sus scrofa).  Tigers have been reported using this area occasionally.

Grassland Habitats in Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary (Sitaram Taigor)

The grassland management practice is remarkable in Kuno WLS where management of palatable and perennial grasses is one of the best in the country. The weeds and unpalatable grasses from the relocated sites are being replaced by perennial palatable grass species.

Saving Grasslands

At present, the main challenge within the sanctuary is to maintain the habitat which has been revived and managed so well. With present connectivity to Ranthambhore and Kailadevi functional, tigers and other carnivores have high probability of using the area for dispersal and establishing their territories. However, poaching of herbivores by the Mongia tribe has been a matter of concern in Kuno.  

The wildlife population should be monitored regularly, including that of vultures which occur here. The grassland, that has been managed reasonably well, should be mapped in order to aid the forest guards to protect it better.

Madhav National Park

Madhav National Park is one of the oldest national parks of Madhya Pradesh. The total area of MNP is approximately 355 sq km. It is situated close to Shivpuri town. Two national highwaysAgra-Bombay (NH-3) and Jhansi-Shivpuri (NH-25) pass through the park. Physical and manmade features have divided the national park into 3 zones, viz North, Central and South.

Madhav Lake in Madhav National Park (Sitaram Taigor)

The upper Vindhyan hills run east to west forming plateau creased by small and big drainage system. Major vegetation types following Champion and Seth's classification (Champion and Seth 1968) are kardhai (Anogeissus pendula), salai (Boswellia serrata), palash (Butea monosperma), khair (Acacia catechu), moist mixed deciduous and dry mixed deciduous and scrub mixed forests.

The prey species is represented by chital, sambar, barking deer, chinkara, Nilgai, chowsingha and wild boar. Tigers have been reported from this area infrequently. Very recently a tigress with cubs was reported from the park which indicates that there is high possibility of tigers migrating from other source areas and is probably breeding here. Previous study (Reddy et al 2012) has indicated reproductive mixing between animals of RTR and MNP in the recent past. Despite the fragmentation and poaching risks, sporadic dispersal of animals might be happening even today, from RTR towards MNP.

Reducing Grazing

Madhav National Park being surrounded by human habitations is under tremendous biotic pressures. The local communities are dependent on forest for natural resources, while grazing in certain part of area is also a major issue. There is a scope of managing the habitat of the park in much better way than being done currently. Efforts should be undertaken immediately to understand the current status of the prey and other wildlife species in the region.

Conclusion

Kuno-Palpur WLS and Madhav NP are ideally located close to RTR (Figure 1), and have the potential to hold relatively good tiger numbers as meta-population. Providing similar status to the corridors connecting these PAs should be explored. Collaborative efforts between the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh should be carried out to protect these important habitat areas to ensure that tigers migrate and survive in the landscape.

Dispersal routes of multiple tiger individuals from Ranthambhore since 1999

References

Champion, Harry George and Shiam Kishore Seth (1968): A Revised Survey of Forest Typesof India. New Delhi: Manager of Publications, Government of India.

Jhala Yadvendradev, Qamar Qureshi, Rajesh Gopal and Priya Ranjan Sinha (2007): Status of the Tigers, Co-predators and Prey in India: A Preliminary Report,” National Tiger Conservation Authority, Govt of India, New Delhi and Institute of India, Dehradun, India, accessed on 5 September 2015, http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/tiger-land.pdf.

Jhala Yadvendradev, Rajesh Gopal and Qamar Qureshi (2008): “Status of the Tigers, Co-predators, and Prey in India,” New Delhi: National Tiger Conservation Authority, Govt of India, New Delhi, and Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, accessed on 5 September 2015, https://www.academia.edu/980089/Status_of_Tigers_Co-predators_and_Prey_in_India_by_National_Tiger_Conservation_Authority_and_Wildlife_Institute_of_India.

Johnsingh Asir Jawahar Thomas, Surendra P Goyal and Qamar Qureshi (2007): “Preparations for the reintroduction of Asiatic lion Panthera leo persica in to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh, India,” Oryx Vol 41, Issue 1, pp 93–96, accessed on 5 September 2015, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=851220.

Nair Tarun and Y Chaitainya Krishna (2013): “Vertebrate fauna of the Chambal River Basin, with emphasis on the National Chambal Sanctuary, India,” Journal of Threatened Taxa Vol 5, Issue 2, pp 3620–3641, accessed on 5 September 2015, http://threatenedtaxa.org/ZooPrintJournal/2013/February/o323826ii133620-3641.pdf.

Reddy Patlolla Anuradha, Digpal Singh Gour, Maradani Bhavanishankar, Kanika Jaggi, Shaik Mohammed Hussain, Katakam Harika and Sisinthy Shivaji (2012): “Genetic Evidence of Tiger Population Structure and Migration within an Isolated and Fragmented Landscape in Northwest India,” PLoS ONE Vol 7, Issue 1, accessed on 5 September 2015, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0029827.

Shah Sunny, Sailaja Nayak and Jimmy Borah (2015): “Tiger Dispersals in the Semi-arid Landscape of North-west India,” CATnews, 62 Spring, pp 24-26.

Taigor Sitaram and RJ Rao (2010a). Habitat features of aquatic animals in the National Chambal Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh, India. Asian Journal of Experimental Biological Sciences, Vol  1, Issue 2, pp 409-414.

Taigor Sitaram and RJ Rao (2010b): “Anthropogenic Threats in the National Chambal Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh, India,” Tiger Paper, Vol 37, No 1 Jan–March, pp 23-27.

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