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Radio collar data shows tigers use farm lands to travel – WII report

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Radio collar – Even as the country celebrates World Environment Day with the theme ‘Tigers as flag-bearers for ecological restoration’, a report by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Maharashtra Forest Department (MFD) calls for enhanced protection of over 37,067 sq km tiger corridors identified in the Vidarbha landscape.

This is the first corridor study based on tiger telemetry data in India. It reveals that the agricultural landscape in Vidarbha is still conducive for tiger movement and is hope for long-term conservation of tigers. Between 2015-2020, WII and MFD radio-collared 15 tigers under the ‘Long-term research projects in Maharashtra’. The report ‘Telemetry-based tiger corridors of Vidarbha landscape’, which is ready for release, identified 37,067 sq km of tiger corridors of the total area of 97,321 sq km landscape, which harbours 331 tigers.

The study with radio collar data categorized tiger corridors into 5 classes: very low (10,289 sq km), low (18,728 sq km), medium (5,690 sq km), high (1,418 sq km) to very high (942 sq km).
“This indicates the importance of the pathways of the corridor. The very high values indicate good connectivity where as ‘very low’ values indicate low connectivity. Attempts should be made to bring these identified areas under corridor management plan and enhanced protection,” said WII scientist and project investigator Dr Bilal Habib.

“The study specifies that rural areas of Vidarbha are still favourable for tiger movement. We need to maintain these corridors so that tigers are able to disperse from one PA to others,” Habib said.
“Dispersing tigers in the Vidarbha landscape are using a much wider swathe of the landscape outside PAs for movement than earlier known. It extends well beyond forested structural corridors or the least cost-corridors modelled by earlier studies,” said Nitin H Kakodkar, PCCF (wildlife), Maharashtra.
“The study uses movement data to call for attempts to bring areas under corridor management plan and enhanced protection. Tigers in this landscape were pushing boundaries of human tolerance, ready to accept risk of exploring a human-dominated landscape,” said Kakodkar.

“Data has also shown extensive use of agricultural lands for movement. Tigers have used whatever small fragment of forest patch or parcel of cultivated land with standing crops, to seek refuge during daytime,” the PCCF adds.
The report notes the Vidarbha landscape is dissected by 84,202 km of roads, which need pre-emptive mitigation where the roads cross important tiger corridors. Such habitat connectivity is increasingly used to mitigate effects of habitat fragmentation, land-use dynamics, and climate change.

“Such findings with radio collar data not only add to our knowledge of tiger movement ecology but also have tremendous management implications on the ground. It changes the quantum of management efforts for creating awareness related to human-tiger conflict management and mitigation, connectivity conservation etc. It provides direction as to where to focus management interventions on the ground to make the corridors more permeable and aid successful tiger dispersals,” said Kakodkar.

“The purview of tiger conservation, which till date was thought to be restricted to lands under the jurisdiction of the forest management, now seems to extend beyond such boundaries and into a realm where successful conservation effort should necessarily include many stakeholders,” said Habib.

“The local people, district administration, local NGOs, and various development agencies should work in tandem with forest management. The report provide clues to managers to target proactive and pre-emptive management interventions for conflict prevention, mitigation, and connectivity conservation,” Kakodkar said.