Human intervention hinders tiger connectivity

Even as efforts are being made to protect, conserve, and augment the wild tiger population of the country, a study report that appeared in the open-access journal ‘Plos One’ earlier this month says that human intervention, even in the form of roads through tiger habitats, hinders the instinctive quality of the tiger to wander far in search of connectivity with distant populations.

The study ‘Connectivity of Tiger ( Panthera tigris ) Populations in the Human-Influenced Forest Mosaic of Central India’ conducted in six protected forest areas of Central India with appreciable tiger population shows that tigers can wander even 650 km between protected areas for connectivity.

The study was conducted by Aditya Joshi, Samrat Mondol, and Uma Ramakrishnan from the National Centre for Biological Sciences attached to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, Srinivas Vaidyanathan from the Foundation for Ecological Research, Puducherry, and Advait Edgaonkar from the Indian Institute of Forest Management.

The study was carried out in the protected areas of Melghat Tiger Reserve, Pench Tiger Reserve, Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary, and Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra; Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh; and Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve in Andhra Pradesh. The study says that many tigers currently live in small protected areas in India, and their survival depends on increasing the connectivity between these areas through tiger corridors. Further, geo-spatial analyses revealed that tiger connectivity was affected by landscape elements such as human settlements, road density, and host-population tiger density, but not by distance between populations.

Landscape crucial

“Our results elucidate the importance of landscape and habitat viability outside and between protected areas and provide a quantitative approach to test functionality of tiger corridors. We suggest future management strategies aim to minimise urban expansion between protected areas to maximise tiger connectivity,” the authors said in their report.

“Achieving this goal in the context of ongoing urbanisation and need to sustain current economic growth exerts enormous pressure on the remaining tiger habitats and emerges as a big challenge to conserve wild tigers in the Indian subcontinent.”

The authors based their studies on genetic approaches combined with landscape ecology to study tiger dispersals between the six protected areas chosen for the study. The study focussed on whether there was connectivity between tiger populations in Central India over long distances and which geographical features hindered this connectivity.

By sampling tiger scat for DNA, the authors found evidence of long-range tiger dispersal over 650 km between protected areas, which is much farther than previously found. They then studied this data in the context of landscape features, and found that the long-range connectivity was hindered by urban settlements and not by distance between populations. “Increasing local tiger abundance, while important, will still be an inadequate conservation strategy in the absence of population connectivity. If dispersal translates into migration along with increases in tiger population size, the future of tigers is promising, provided that connectivity is maintained and becomes an important conservation agenda in the future.”

Says distance between populations not a factor in connectivity

‘Increasing local abundance will be inadequate conservation strategy’

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