Mumbai: In a major breakthrough for tiger conservation, the state forest department has found evidence of multiple tigers in the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve (STR). Tiger presence has also been detected in the Koyna area, which lacks adequate herbivores and covers a difficult terrain, making it an inhospitable habitat for these large carnivores. “There was no direct sighting of tigers. But, scats likely to be those of two to three tigers were found in the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary and Chandoli National Park,” said Satyajit Gujar, chief conservator of forests and field director of the STR. These scats were analysed by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). The Koyna area has undergrowth, and an undulating and hilly terrain that makes it tough for tigers to chase and catch herbivores.
Camera trap images of a tiger were captured first at the Chandoli National Park in May 2018 and later in the Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary in May 2019. These were the first direct sightings of tigers in the landscape.
However, the STR, which covers the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary and Chandoli National Park, suffers from the lack of breeding, resident tigers and a poor prey base. The 1,165.56 sq km STR includes a 600.12 sq km core and 565.45 sq km buffer in Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur and Ratnagiri districts.
The 2018 Tiger Census had estimated Maharashtra’s tiger numbers at 312 out of India’s 2,967. However, the Sahyadri tiger project was found to have no tigers utilizing the reserve (resident tigers), though it has three tigers inside.
“The future of tiger conservation lies in the STR as other areas have saturated,” said Gujar, adding that the notification of the Tillari area, which has recorded breeding tigers, as a conservation reserve would serve as a source population for this tiger reserve. The STR is estimated to have the carrying capacity for around 18 tigers.
Gujar said they were developing meadows to boost herbivore numbers in the tiger project and had sought the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA) permission to translocate ungulates from Katraj Zoo in Pune. “We have a prey density of around 11 per sq km, which we want to increase to around 30 to 35 as per other Project Tiger sites,” he said, adding that this would make the tiger reserve a good habitat for these large carnivores. The forest department also plans to translocate tigers to the STR.
Activities like bauxite mining in Kolhapur affected the STR’s connectivity to source populations and habitats from source populations down south like Karnataka’s Kali tiger reserve.