The Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) in north Bengal finally had its Kodak moment when a beat officer photographed a sub-adult tiger with a film camera — a first since the reserve was set up 27 years ago, officials said on Wednesday.
Senior State Forest department officials were “excited” as the news would silence those who speculated there were no tigers left in the reserve.
Manindra Sarkar was in the Hatipota forest area on March 24 when he came face-to-face with the tiger. Although shaken, he pulled out his camera and clicked two pictures of the animal, said reserve field director R.P. Saini.
“A camera trap was set up in the area as there had been a recent kill there, but the animal was not caught on automated cameras,” he said.
The BTR is one of the seven reserves in the country identified by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) as a reserve with critically low tiger density. Some estimates suggest there may be as few as 12 tigers there.
But the declining number of tigers at the reserve is due to habitat destruction caused by slow conversion of grasslands into plantations all over north Bengal.
According to Sheelwant Patel, Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), north Bengal, what began as a fire protection exercise in 1877, transformed the landscape of the region.
“Earlier there were grasses in most of the Terai and Dooars with a few Sal trees in the table-top areas. There would be frequent fires in the grasslands which would check the spread of Sal trees.” Stamping these fires out led to indiscriminate spread of Sal trees, followed by the plantation of teak and other commercial timbre, Mr. Patel added.
The Forest Department is trying to reconvert the region to grasslands and has started experimenting in patches of 20 to 30 hectares. But the process is held up because commercial felling of trees in protected forest areas is prohibited, creating problems of disposal.
A submission was made to a Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court in December last to allow selling of wood, Mr. Saini said.
Reserve authorities are hopeful of reconverting the cultivated land of the 10 villages that are to be relocated from the reserve, he added.