Tigers straying from Rajasthan’s Ranthambhore National Park due to territorial clashes can now find a home at the recently notified Mukundara Hills tiger reserve. However, corridors will have to be developed and the prey base strengthened

Territorial clashes and migrating wildcats is not an unusual phenomenon. But when they enter unprotected areas, they run the risk of getting killed in accidents or falling prey to poachers’ evil ways.

The Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan, which is one of the premier tiger reserves in the country, too, has been facing a similar situation for a long time. The growing population of tigers in Ranthambhore is a happy tiding. But it has resulted in insufficient space in the main habitat area for all tigers, especially for the male cats.

The State government has recently notified Mukundara Hills as the third tiger reserve in Rajasthan. It is being hoped that it will prove to be a safe haven for those big cats that stray following territorial clashes in the core area of the park.

After the total disappearance of tigers from Sariska nearly a decade ago, greater focus obviously shifted to protect the Ranthambhore tiger population. This national park currently has 26 adult tigers and 23 cubs.

Though the overall core area notified for the tiger reserve is large, the favoured area of tigers is relatively small. The barren Banas river bed between Ranthambhore and Kailadevi are the inhibiting factors in their movement. It was being thought for a long time that either Van Vihar of Dholpur or Ramgarh Vishdhari in Bundi and Jawahar Sagar, Bhansroregarh and Darra near Kota could be developed as safe habitats for migrating Ranthambhore wildcats.

The recently notified Mukundara Hills was always like a satellite reserve for tigers moving out of Ranthambhore.  It, however, does not have any tiger population of its own. The notification is a positive step ahead but it will take time to develop the habitat, says Y.K. Sahu, Divisional Forest Officer at Ranthambhore.

Corridors will have to be developed by removing physical barriers and human interference in addition to strengthening prey base among other things, he adds.

Rajpal Singh, conservator and member of State Wildlife Board, also feels the Mukundara Hills will ensure safe migration. “There is protection in natural migration. Urbanisation has left only two routes available for safe migration of wildcats — Mukundara Hills in south of Ranthambhore and Chambal and Kailadevi in the east,” he says. A continuous patch in the area, which is quite a rich valley, would offer a perfect sanctuary for wildlife.

For the survival of carnivorous animals like tigers and leopards, a prey base is essential. Mukundara Hills has sufficient prey base which will need to be further enhanced if the government decides to relocate some tigers in the new reserve, Mr. Singh points out.

Kaila Devi and Mukundara Hills have always been hosting straying wild cats. Around 2004, a tiger named Broken Tail was found killed in an accident near Darra. Another tigress, fondly known as Sultanpur tigress, has been living in the Kali Sindh ravines of Kota district, which has a rich bio reserve and prey base for the past four years, Mr. Singh says. The territorial clashes increase when the male female ratio is disturbed. The young cubs, often unable to face the “territorial” males, migrate to neighbouring areas, he adds.

After Ranthambhore and Sariska, it will be third reserve in the State spread over a 759 sq km area covering the four districts of Kota, Bundi, Chittorgarh and Jhalawar. Nearly 417 sq km has been earmarked as the core area while the buffer area will be of 342. 82 sq km.

The Rajasthan government had made a budget announcement last year to declare Mukundara Hills as a tiger reserve. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has also given in-principle approval to five new tiger reserves in the country: Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), Ratapani (Madhya Pradesh), Sunabeda (Odisha), Mukundara Hills (Rajasthan) and Satyamangalam (Tamil Nadu).

There are some villages in the core area of the Mukundara Hills which will have to be relocated once the funds are provided by the NTCA. The Forest and Wildlife Department has also prepared a project for developing the area from Dholpur to Jhalawar as a biosphere reserve with an investment of Rs. 276 crore over a period of three years.