Tigers, declared as man-eaters, will no longer be confined to zoos in Madhya Pradesh (MP).
The MP forest department has decided to house them in special enclosures in the buffer zones of tiger reserves, which would be developed as tiger safaris in a bid to promote tourism, said an official.
However, the project has raised concern among a section of environmentalists, who feel that such a move would interfere with the natural ecosystem of the tiger reserves, and could drive away some wild animals and might trigger a fresh round of man-animal conflict in the surrounding areas.
The official explained that the objective is to give a semi-natural habitat for man-eater tigers and also to boost tourism in the state. The project, estimated to cost Rs 50 crore, will be implemented first in Pench, Bandhavgarh, and Kanha tiger reserves, and each of the enclosure will cover between 47 and 90 hectares (ha).
Alok Kumar, principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF), wildlife, MP, said: “The Centre has given its approval for Kanha. Soon, we will get the nod for Pench and Bandhavgarh.”
SK Mandal, a retired PCCF, wildlife, MP, who had proposed the project before he superannuated on July 31, said: “The state forest department will not shift man-eating tigers to zoos such as the National Park in Bhopal. A special tiger safari will be developed in tiger reserves. The decision was taken after studying various adverse effects on tigers that were shifted to captivity in zoos.
“All the guidelines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) are being followed. Tiger safaris have been proposed near a river and natural water bodies. The concept is to provide a natural habitat for them, where the animals will have access to food in the ecosystem and the state forest department will also feed them,” he said.
“These safaris will operate throughout the year. A special tiger sighting will be facilitated for tourists. It will generate revenue for national parks through tourism,” said VS Parihar, director, Pench Tiger Reserve.
“The enclosure will be closed from all sides with walls. The focus will be on the security and conservation of tigers. The cameras will be fitted in the enclosure to protect the animal from poachers,” he added.
In February, a re-wilding experiment on two cubs, who were abandoned by their mother, and taken care of by the forest department authorities, failed and the tigers had to be kept in an enclosure in a zoological park, Van Vihar, in Bhopal.
“Earlier in 2015, they had come up with similar kind of project, but that had failed because of poachers. It’s a good move, as efforts are on to keep man-eater tigers in large enclosures. However, it may disturb the ecosystem because of sightseeing activities by tourists. The state forest department’s priority should be protection and conservation and not the promotion of tourism,” said Ajay Dubey, an environmentalist.
A Jabalpur-based advocate Anshuman Singh, who is working as a wildlife activist for the past 15 years, said, “In July 2019, the state forest department in coordination with Jabalpur Municipal Corporation had started a project to introduce tiger safari in 40 ha in Dumna Nature Park. This was a dangerous move, as leopards are also living in the park. I moved court against it and the matter is sub-judice. My concern about the latest project is that the state forest department will disturb other animals because of tiger safaris.”
He urged the department officials not “to neglect other animals at the cost of tigers, which, understandably, are their top priority”.
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