The Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS), though home to more than half the number of tigers present in Kerala, may not be notified as a tiger reserve as the proposal lacks public support.
The attempts of the Kerala Forest Department to push forward the proposal for notifying the sanctuary as the third tiger reserve in the State came a cropper at the recently held State Wildlife Advisory Board. Citing the public resistance against the earlier attempts, the board rejected the proposal.
The ‘Status of Tigers in India’ report released last year had estimated the tiger population of Wayanad as between 75 and 80 individuals. Periyar Tiger Reserve, the first one in Kerala, has an estimated population of 30 to 35 big cats, whereas Parambikulam, the second reserve, has a population of 20 to 25 tigers.
Piloting the Wayanad proposal, the department officials pointed out that more than half of the tiger population in the State was found in Wayanad. There were five tiger reserves in the neighbouring States that share boundaries with Wayanad, they said.
The arguments of the officials that the notification would ensure financial aid from the Centre and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), better conservation and management of the tiger population and help generate more employment opportunities failed to impress the State authorities.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who chaired the meeting, flagged the issue of human-wildlife conflicts in the district. Referring to the public protests that were staged in Wayanad earlier against the proposal, Mr. Vijayan expressed concern over the possible impact of the proposal. Any such proposal should be implemented only after holding wide public consultations, he said.
Cattle lifting by the ailing tigers and their straying into human habitations had often triggered widespread public protests in the district. The department had to backtrack from its earlier attempts to notify the reserve following stiff public resistance. There were speculations that the notification would bring in stringent restrictions on development activities in the district, though the department tried to counter the campaign.
C.K. Saseendran, the legislator representing the Kalpetta Assembly constituency, highlighted the public resistance against the proposal and suggested that the proposal should be taken forward only after dispelling the public concern.
Each year, the NTCA supports the tiger reserves by funding the proposals put forward through its Annual Plan of Operations. The authority also supports the reserves for implementing the tiger conservation plan.
While Periyar gets an annual support of around ₹9 crore, the Parambikulam gets around ₹6 crore from the authority.