Study claims healthy tiger population in Arunachal SIVASISH THAKUR GUWAHATI, March 22 At a time when the tiger is being pushed to the brink even in supposedly well-protected national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country, some reserve forest (RF) belts of Arunachal Pradesh, especially in the eastern part of the State, could still be sheltering a sizeable big cat population. A field study conducted by Wild Survey North East under the US Fish and Wildlife Service claims to have found evidence of a healthy tiger population with an occupancy that might be higher than even many of the protected areas (PAs), i.e., wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in several contiguous belts of tiger habitat outside the PAs.
Asif Ahmed Hazarika, who carried out the eight-month survey from February to September-2005 encompassing the entire RF belt from east to west up to an altitude of 5,000 feet in seven survey blocks, told The Assam Tribune that those RFs merited upgradation into tiger conservation areas in view of the thriving tiger population.
There were 135 transect survey field days covering a total survey distance of 1,350 km over a total transect length of 135 km. Over this period, 133 signs of tigers were recorded in the form of pugmarks, scratches and scats, Hazarika said.
The survey blocks were (1) Doimara and Ammatula RFs blocks, (2) Papum RF blocks, (3) Panir and Talli RFs blocks, (4) Digaru and Paya RFs blocks, (5) Denning RF block, (6) Kamlang RF block and (7) Manabhum and Tengapani block.
Although the survey is three-and-a-half-year old, its significance lies in the fact that many stretches of forests outside PAs still constitute prime wildlife habitat, including for the tiger. Conservationists have all along been calling for protection and upgradation of pristine reserve forests, especially those forming contiguous belts with PAs, for securing a better future of wildlife.
The survey reveals that the frequency of encountering tiger evidence was almost equal in all the field survey blocks but slightly higher in the central and eastern blocks. The highest sample encounters were made at transect number 16 in Denning RF block with eight encounters followed by transect number 27 in Manabhum-Tengapani RF block with seven encounters, suggesting that tigers have a bit higher concentration in the eastern part of Arunachal.
Subsequent field studies on tiger and its habitat continued to divulge several aspects of tiger ecology and habitat conditions, besides some fluctuation in tiger population distribution.
Hazarika said that notwithstanding the apparently good tiger populations in different parts of Arunachal, there was an urgent need to gear up protection measures for maintaining the status of tigers since signs of rapid changes affecting the tiger habitats were already there.
Degradation of these habitats will steadily push the tiger to tiny islands of forests where they will remain confined as prisoners or will stray out resulting in conflict with humans, Hazarika said.