Introduction

a) The Tiger Conservation Landscape (TCL) being targeted and the estimated population of tigers directly impacted by the project in the project area and in the overall TCL. Include references and supporting document where possible.Please detail the status/trend of the targeted tiger population (high density? recovering? connecting populations?) Mention other threatened species and biodiversity in the area directly impacted by the project.

 Tigers currently survive in just 7% of their original global distribution range (Dinerstein et al.,2007). Loss and fragmentation of their habitats combined with direct threats through poaching and retaliatory killings have resulted in local or demographic extinction of tigers in several areas across the species’ global distribution range (Tilson et al., 2004; Gubbi, 2006; Lynam 2010; Wright 2010).

Currently India harbours about 60% of the world’s wild tiger population (Mondol et al 2009; Jhala et al 2011) despite its burgeoning human population that entails growing needs for large-scale developmentsas well as an immense anthropogenic pressure on already fragmented and isolated protected areas; the bastion of tiger source populations in the country. These protected areas however are too small to hold viable tiger populations in isolation (Ranganathan et al 2008; Mondol et al 2009). Recent conservation strategies prescribe an enlarged focus of conservation efforts on multiple meta-populations (Wikramanayake et al 2004; Sanderson et al 2006), leading to the identification of Tiger Conservation Landscapes (TCLs) which include a number of Protected Areas along with inter-connecting habitat patches or corridors (Sanderson et al 2006).The current estimation of the total tiger population as per the All India tiger estimation 2014 (Jhala et al 2014)stands at 2226 individual breeding tigers.

The tiger occupied landscape in Maharashtra consists of six tiger reserves within the patchily distributed 50650 Km2 of forested area (State of Forest Report 2009) of the state. Five of these tiger reserves in eastern Maharashtra along with their forested interconnectivity is recognised as the Vidharba Tiger Conservation Landscape.As per Sanderson et al (2010), this landscape actually incorporates, three Class 1 TCLs (potential to hold at least 100 tigers each); Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), Pench Tiger Reserve, Satpuda Tiger Reserve; and one Class 2 TCL (potential to hold at least 50 tigers) i.e.  Melghat Tiger Reserve. Besides these, several other habitat patches in the state constitute part of identified TCLs in contiguity with TCLs in adjoining states. Of these, the most important ones are part of the Nawegaon-Kanha corridor connecting with Kanha Tiger Reserve (Class 1) in the state of Madhya Pradesh and the Nawegaon-TATR corridor connecting with Indravati Tiger Reserve (Class 4) in Chhattisgarh State(Qureshi et al 2014). Much of the forests outside the tiger reserves are rendered protection as Wildlife Sanctuaries of adjunct forest divisions, and all altogether it is believed, with concentrated conservation efforts the state of Maharashtra has the potential to hold at least 400-450 breeding tigers.

Recent estimates of tiger population in the state of Maharashtra accounts for about 8.5% of the total tiger population in the country (Jhalla et al 2014) with 190 breeding individuals, although its potential to hold far greater number of tigers cannot be undermined. For instance, a recent study conducted by the Wildlife Trust of India (2013), identified 27-29 individual breeding individuals in the Brahmapuri subdivision alone, which lies in-between the Tadoba-Nawegaon corridor (Joshi et al. 2014) The presence of such a large number of tigers within territorial forest divisions with relatively lower protection and management as compared to Tiger Reserves, highlights the importance of even fragmented forest patches within corridors. The recent estimates of the tiger in this landscape also indicate an increasing population trend over the past three years (Jhalla et al 2014)

Studies have established that habitat connectivity between source populations is crucial, without which genetic exchange and therefore long-term viability of tiger populations within protected areas is adversely affected (Linkie et al., 2006; Mondol et al., 2013; Sharma et al., 2013; Narayan et al 2005, Gopal 2015). This, and the understanding that tigers in India can today successfully thrive only as large meta-populations, makes the Vidharba landscape one of the prime conservation landscapes for preserving tigers and their natural habitats for posterity. It should also be noted here that the Vidharba landscape shares important links with both sink and source populations outside the state of Maharashtra, with Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh as well as southwards with the state of Andhra Pradesh (Jhalla et al 2011; Qureshi et al 2014).

Besides tigers the vast expanse of the forested landscape of Vidharba also constitutes an abode for a myriad of wildlife species including four species of wild canids (Canisaureus,Canis lupus, Vulpesbengalensisand Cuonalpinus), six species of wild felids besides the tiger(Pantherapardus, Felischaus, Caracal caracal, Prionailurusrubiginosus, Prionailurusbengalensis and Prionailurusviverrinae). The landscape also has good populations of five of six species of bovids of this landscape, including the Black buck (Antilopecervicapra), Wild buffalo (Bubalusarnee), Gaur (Bosgaurus), Nilgai(Boselaphustragocamelus), the Indian Gazelle (Gazellabenetti)and the Four horned antelope (Tetracerusquadricornis) and also six ungulate species, such as the Spotted deer (Axis axis), Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor niger), Barking deer (Muntiacusmuntjak), Mouse deer (Moschiolameminnae) and the widely distributed Wild pig (Sus scrofa).

The forests of Vidharba also house several other smaller mammals like the common Langur (Semnopithecus entellus), Rhesus Macaque (Macacamullatta), the Indian Giant Squirrel (RatufaIndica) which is also the state animal of Maharashtra, the Indian tree shrew (Anathanaellioti), besides over 200 bird species including the Forest Owlet (Heteroglauxblewetti) that was rediscovered in 1997 (Ishtiaq and Rahmani, 2000) and the Critically Endangered Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotisnigriceps), as well as several species of herpetofauna and insects. This entire assemblage of wild fauna is envisaged to be directly impacted by the project, under the umbrella and flagship of tiger conservation initiatives.

 

b) An overview of the communities living in the project areas. This information should include an assessment of the different communities and their population sizes, any previous development initiatives in the area, resources used by communities including food sources, standards of living, human-wildlife conflict zones in the areas. How will this project benefit communities in relation to these issues? Please note the ESMS will form an integral part of this section of your project, and once identified, relevant indicators need to be monitored alongside all main project activities.

Much of the local communities residing in the Vidharba landscape are agro-pastoral by profession, growing paddy, cotton, lentils, chillies, soyabean, of which cotton and chillies are largely grown for trade while paddy and lentils are grown largely as subsistence crops. The populace of Vidharba constitutes a mix of ethnicities, among which tribes such as Halbi,Mana, Korku, Gond,Madia, KolamDhamdi, Nihals&Pardhans, also predominate village populations in several part of the landscape. It maybe noted here that much of the landscape does not harbour forest dwelling tribes, and most of the tribal population thrives in multi-ethnic agrarian villages situated in revenue lands. The villages that still do exist within protected area boundaries are also largely heterogenous in their constitution, and almost no portion of the local communities in this landscape depend solely on forest resources for subsistence. Almost all community villages, even those inside Protected Area Boundaries, depend on agriculture and horticulture for subsistence, besides wage labouring. The total human population of this region is about 23 million as per the 2011 census, and the dominant religion is Hinduism, followed by Buddhism. 

Within the Tiger Conservation Landscape in focus, there are about 29 villages in the cores and roughly 431 villages within the buffer areas of the five tiger reserves in this landscape. Additionally, several thousands of villages lie outside these PAs as well, interspersed through the fragmented forest patches of the Territorial Forest Divisions, constituting with the buffer regions of TRs the primary movement corridors of the tiger. There is a standing mandate of the Maharashtra Forest Department to promote voluntary resettlement villages situated inside core areas of Tiger Reserves, on the long run, wherein three villages each in Nawegaon-Nagzira and Tadoba TRs, 14 in Melghat TR, have already been successfully resettled outside the PA boundaries. No such mandate exists, or is remotely feasible for the buffer or territorial forest areas. It is therefore a matter of utmost urgency that the livelihoods of people living in these villages are improved and their dependencies on forests reduced or brought under sustainable limits.

                         

Besides the devastating effects of large scale developments such as coal mines, construction of highways and railways etc., one of the main pressures on these fragmented habitats comes from the overbearing population of livestock that ritually graze within these forests, thereby outcompeting wild herbivores and limiting availability of principal prey species of the tiger.

Additionally, local communities also depend upon these forests for various NTFPs besides fuel wood such as, Mahua flowers (Madhucaindica), Tendu (Diospyrosmelanoxylon), Chironji (Buchananialanzan), Jamun (Syzigiumcumini), Biba (Semicarpusanacardium), Ber (Zyziphusjujuba), Amla(Phylanthusemblica), Palash (Beauteamonosperma), as well as fodder and thatch grasses. While apart from Tendu and Mahua, much of these extractions do not cater to large scale trades, the sheer number of humans extracting these resources, not only creates a major dearth of natural fruits, flowers and other products for wild herbivores but also causes extensive disturbance to wildlife. Furthermore, Many of these dependencies also are a major factor promoting human-large carnivore conflicts. For instance, in Brahmapuri Forest Division, about 88% of all attacks by tigers on humans have occurred while collecting NTFP in the forests, while 100% of cattle deaths due to tiger attacks have occurred while cattle where grazing inside forests (WTI, unpublished scoping survey data).

Despite these overbearing pressures, many of these forested patches that inter-link the Tiger Reserves and Wildlife Sanctuaries, constitute important dispersal corridors for not just the tiger, but several other species (Joshi et al 2013). This is also a clear indication of the criticality of these habitats to the survival of the nation’s flagship species within this landscape. Other problems such as encroachments, fire, poaching, bamboo harvesting etc., also cater towards habitat degradation.

Although the Tiger Reserve cores and the adjoining buffer and territorial areas are managed with sustained financial support from Central and State Govt. funds, territorial and buffer forests acting as corridors are generally given a lower funding priority by the state. The current project will therefore focus on such areas and channel the funds for various activities ranging from development of sustainable Alternative Livelihoods, fostering sustainable harvesting of NTFPs, reducing fuel wood use through proliferation of improved fuel efficient cook stove varieties and reduce grazing pressure by introducing the concept of improved milch cattle varieties. Under the national and state mandates, Joint Forest Management Committees, Village Eco-development Committees, Community Forest Rights Management Committees as well as village Self Help Groups have been constituted in many villages of these areas, yet remain largely dysfunctional due to poor focus on their capacity development and functioning. The project will aim at constitution of such committees where they do not exist as well as developing the capacity and providing long-term support where they already exist, in order to further proliferate various sustainable developmental activities. Lastly, the project will also aim at large scale sensitisation and awareness initiatives for local people in over 200 villages in critical locations of identified corridors. These will also focus on the younger generation, i.e. rural school students as well as their teachers, to boost a mind-set change over the long term. All of these initiatives although not catering to the entire anthropogenic population of the landscape mark a very important starting point at a smaller level, focussing on critical corridor bottleneck areas, and are expected to leave a sustained impact that benefits both local communities and as well as tiger habitats.

c)A description of the habitats in the project area and how they will be directly impacted by the project. Which area is the project targeting (NP, buffer zone, corridor, reserve…). Are there any baseline data e.g. for forested / encroached area? What are the main conservation issues in the different habitat types? A description of the ecosystem services provided by the project area and how the provision of these services will be directly impacted by the project. Are there any baseline data available?

The project area comprises of a dense mosaic of various natural habitat types ranging from open grasslands to dry-deciduous forests and teak monocultures, to densely populated human habitations, adjoining expanses of crop lands as well as intermittent large scale anthropogenic developmental initiatives such as coal mines, linear infrastructures etc. The natural habitats in the form of forests and grassland mosaics consist of dry teak (Tectonagrandis) forests, in many places occurring with associated species such asAnogeissuslatifolia, Terminalia spp., Diospyrostomentosa,Pterocarpusmarsupium, Dalbergialatifolia, Cassia fistula, Buteamonosperma, Adina cordifolia, Mitragynaparviflora, Brideliaretusa, Lagerstroemia parviflora, Wrightiatinctoria, Bauhinia spp., Dendrocalamusstrictus, Woodfordiafruticosa, Cleistanthuscollinusand Helictorisisora, etc. (Singh and Karthikeyan, 2000).

Dry deciduous forest patches also occur in several forests including species such as Anogeissuslatifolia, Terminaliaalata, T. bellerica, D. melanoxylon, B. serratta, Buchananialanzan,MadhucaLatifolia, Aeglemarmelosand Cassia fistula. With common lianas such as Smilax zeylanica, Asparagus racemosusand Ichnocarpusfrutescens.

The drier parts of Satpuda range also harbour Hardwickiadominantforests including species like Hardwickiabinata, Boswelliaserrata, Lanneacoromandelica, Anogeissuslatifolia, Albizzialebbeck, Lagerstroemia parviflora, Diospyrostomentosa, Tectonagrandis, Acacia catechu and Dendrocalamusstrictus. In areas with at least 900mm rainfall, Dendrocalamuspatches as forest brakes are also common. Apart from this there are several special habitats and moist refuges of conservation significance in Eastern Vidharba (Govekar, 2008).

All project activities shall be carried out in the corridors and buffers or the PAs in this landscape. The project activities will focus on indirect development of much of these forest patches except the strictly teak monoculture patches, as most of these monocultures exist under the jurisdiction of the Maharashtra Forest Development Corporation. Developing of forest patches is intended through long-term capacity building of village level committees such as JFMCs, EDCs, BMCs and CFRMCs, which can channelize funds into eco-development of their respective villages through outsourcing of plantation work. Much of these bodies, as mentioned before are dysfunctional and many who are operational do not carry out sustained supplemental plantations.

Through the current project activities towards formation and capacity development of CommunityForest Management Committees and other similar village based administrative bodies will be undertaken. These will also be then fostered and guided to carry out continuous NTFP and MFP plantations in community owned lands as well as adjoining forest lands. These bodies will also be developed as knowledge bases for development of sustainable alternative livelihood options to increase earnings of these communities. The project will also employ these local bodies to develop small grazing pastures (grasslands) within identified areas for wild herbivores and in conjunction, attempt at promoting ecotourism models as the herbivore assemblage increase in these grasslands.

The Vidharba Tiger Landscape also comprises of important watersheds that not only provide potable water through extensive ground water recharging, but also provide water for the large agro-pastoral economy of the region. Maintaining various ecosystem services apart from provisioning services is also ultimately linked to the provisioning capacity of an ecosystem. These also include various NTFPs and MFPs that a vast majority of local communities depend upon traditionally. It is also needless to say that healthy forests also regulate micro-climatic changes that are extremely crucial for not just the crops but also the people who have adapted to these regimes over millennia. The project’s holistic outlook and specific focus on educating and sensitising the local populace are important thrust areas that will cater to this need. The sum total of activities envisaged in the proposal, are believed to emerge into long-term expanding initiatives that will result in ameliorating much of the direct threats to forests in the corridor regions, and developing a populace that is less dependent on forests for their livelihood needs and are more accepting towards having the tiger in forests adjoining their homesteads. Why the tiger and its habitat are to be saved is perhaps unnecessary to reiterate, but what the benefits it would ultimately provide to the local communities and all humanity in the landscape, are facts that require to percolate into the larger populace, which the project also envisages at a relatively large scale.

d)The integration of the project into national plans and policies for tiger conservation - refer to specific policy documents.  

The project proposal is based on the broad recommendations of Tiger Conservation Plans (TCPs) of the Tiger Reserves in the Vidharba landscape and the working plans of adjoining forested areas. Various activities envisaged in the project also follows existing guidelines issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Govt. of India and Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India. The TCPs in particular include, Tiger Security Plan, Eco Tourism Sub Plans, Core, Buffer and Corridor plans.

The broad recommendations of TCPs cater to the various aspects of conservation such as habitat development, protection, soil and moisture conservation, eco development, livelihood issues, wildlife health management, maintaining corridor connectivity, reducing dependency of local communities on forests, reducing human-animal conflict, and promoting eco-tourism. This project has been planned at par with these guidelines and recommendations, which are integral to successfully conserving the major source populations of Tiger. Theproject will also cater to conservation of several other endangered species of the landscape under the umbrella and flagship of tiger conservation, including ecological indicator species such as the Indian Giant Squirrel (Ratufaindica) and forest owlet (Heteroglauxblewitti).

One of the key thrust areas of this project, is its synergy with conservation actions being implemented within PAs. Across protected areas in the country broad scoped conservation initiatives ranging from voluntary resettlement of local communities to habitat development and protection have resulted in major success stories. Such multi-pronged conservation initiatives in areas that outside the core PAs, i.e. corridors and buffer areas is also therefore likely to be rewarding, especially as resettlement of communities is not a prerogative. The current project thus aims at utilising funds in developing such areas, to a great extent using participatory models, into healthy forest patches that can hold principal prey species of the tiger and thus also smaller populations of tigers. The project also greatly leans towards making co-inhabiting local communities more aware and sensitive towards their contribution in maintaining not just tiger populations but also the rich forests they live in. Such holistic approaches are also integral to various conservation action and management policies of the country (vide various amendments), including the National Wildlife Action Plan (drafted for 2017-2022),The Recognition of Forest Rights to Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006, and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

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