Up and coming development projects, increasing pressure from tourism and pilgrimage, increasing number of hotels and conflicts with local communities are the major threats faced by the three tiger reserves in the State.
The weaknesses include inadequate trained and competent staff in the tiger reserves, disturbance due to human settlements inside the reserves and fringes, exotic plantations, invasive species, increasing human – wildlife conflict in certain pockets and some corridors still falling outside the tiger reserves.
The ‘Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of Tiger Reserves in India: Process and Outcomes 2010 – 2011,' brought out by the Wildlife Institute of India and National Tiger Conservation Authority, has listed the strengths of the tiger reserves as well.
Connectivity to adjoining areas, strong support of stakeholders, good scientific research information and strong eco-development programme have been identified as strengths of Kalakad – Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.
Sound protection strategies, adequate baseline information, adequate support of local people, co-ordination and contiguity with Kerala are the strong points for Anamalai.
At Mudumalai, the landscape adjoining Bandipur and Wayanad has provided space for migration of large mammals and integration into the ecosystem. Protection system, with anti-poaching strategies in place, has been termed good.
In all three reserves, the study has viewed the establishment of tiger foundations, growing interest of research among individuals and institutions and increasing government support as opportunities.
Prepared under the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) framework, the outcome of the MEE process has categorised the three tiger reserves in the State as very good. The Western Ghats landscape has been rated 75 on the MEE score, 10 points above the average of 65 per cent for all five clusters.
However, the team chaired by State's former head of Forest Department C.K. Sreedharan with Yogesh Dubey and E.A. Jayson as members which evaluated Cluster IV covering nine tiger reserves (TR) in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu has found several shortcomings in management.
While all TRs have an approved management plan, none of them has approved tiger conservation plan, the report noted. The present system of beat, section and range as unit of management, has to be evaluated to see if it was serving the twin major purposes of protection and implementation of developmental programmes.
While enforcing Acts, it was noticed that booking of wildlife offences, filing of charge sheets and taking them to logical conclusions in a time bound manner was also absent in most TRs.
Apart from inadequately trained staff, the motivational level was not very high due to lack of adequate incentives. Besides, there was lack of arms and ammunitions and efficient communication systems and other equipment.
Most of the TRs lacked true research and development support to make them sustainable, said the report. It has also found shortcomings in capacity building of staff in wildlife management, unorganised tourism management, lack of internal monitoring and evaluation systems, delayed release of funds. Another major drawback reported was the inadequate attention paid to local communities inside the TRs and in the immediate surroundings and failure to accept them as full partners in management practices.
Implementation of Forest Rights Act 2006 has been found to be quite tardy and poor in most of the TRs.
The report also emphasised the need for a comprehensive resettlement programme to reduce serious biotic interference, active management of animals straying into agricultural fields, steering of tiger foundations in proper direction and participation of stakeholders in management which was only moderate now.