Even as there is considerable joy at the increase in tiger population at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR), a trend reflected at the national level as well, wildlife activists are sounding a word of caution. While the last census conducted at ATR in 2010 put the count at 13, it is now nearly 23.
While there is a lot of focus on conserving tigers, activists say equal importance must be paid to conserving the prey base of the big cats.
Environment Conservation Group president R. Mohammed Saleem, who was involved in the recent tiger census, says the favoured natural prey for tigers is the gaur (Indian Bison), which can sustain the big cat for nearly a week.
Other preys include the Sambar Deer and Spotted Deer.
These herbivores can be sustained only by healthy vegetation that are threatened at ATR by invasive exotic alien weed species such as Lantana Camara.
“Besides degrading other vegetation, these weeds are thorny and hence shunned by deers and gaurs. They were introduced in Western Ghats by the British who used them as ornamental plants. However, now they are a major threat. While the situation is under control at ATR as of now, the tight vigil must continue,” says Mr. Saleem.
K. Kalidasan, president of OSAI, an NGO involved in wildlife conservation, says tigers are territorial and a cub leaves its mother at the age of two.
Each tiger will carve out its own territory, which must have enough prey base to sustain it in order to avoid conflicts. Tigers were earlier confined to Bandipore – Mudumalai stretch.
However, the increasing population resulted in tigers spilling over to Sathyamangalam, which was initially a reserve and later declared as a tiger reserve.
With tiger population on an upward trajectory, it is expected to soon spill over to the adjoining areas in Erode and the Coimbatore Forest Division ranges of Sirumugai, Mettupalayam and Karamadai.
The prey base in these regions must also be maintained by controlling poaching and maintaining an undisturbed forest. Authorities should ensure there are no human activities in these areas so that man-animal conflict is minimised, he adds.
The ATR has already taken steps to sustain the herbivore population by increasing fodder availability. While crops have been planted on around 1,000 acres till now, it would be taken up on another 250 acres during the current year, said its field director V.T. Kandasamy.
Further, the personnel are also trained and equipped to combat forest fires.
The local populace have also been sensitised and eco-development committees formed among them to elicit their cooperation in fighting forest fires.
“The tiger census also revealed a healthy increase in prey base. We would soon step up the fodder cultivation,” Mr. Kandasamy said.