~ by Archita Sharma (WWF-India)
The Central Indian Landscape has been a stronghold for several long-ranging wild mammals for several thousands of years. Its dense forests and rolling grasslands provide a rich holdout for tigers and several other carnivores, big and small, prowling, hunting, and stalking in the shadows of this wild heartland. But over the last century, Central India has lost a share of its forests to growing human settlements, railways, roads and rampant mining. So, a landscape that was once a contiguous expanse of dry deciduous forests is now fragmented, remaining with 34% forest cover, out of which only 8.5% is legally protected.
Long-ranging mammals need room to roam. In many mammalian carnivores, the juveniles move out of their mother's territory to establish their own, with the males moving long distances to find new territories. When their dispersal routes to seek out prey, territory and mates are severed by roads, cities, villages, mining, and railways, natural populations can be isolated into small island populations. These small isolated populations face a higher risk of disease and extinction. Population genetic structure can help us determine the isolation or connectivity in natural populations.
To put it simply, genetic structure captures the level of genetic variation existing in a population. If mammals from different forest patches are mating with each other, they will be genetically more similar and will consequently have a lower genetic structure. Similarly, isolated populations will be genetically more distinct and will have higher genetic structure. Using DNA as a tool, estimating structure and connectivity in mammals can help us understand fine scale impacts of fragmentation. While there are several such studies on tigers, very little is known about how fragmentation impacts other mammalian species.
A new study published in Diversity and Distribution answers how the same level of habitat fragmentation has differential impacts multiple mammalian species in the threatened Central Indian Landscape. Researchers from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, investigated the genetic structure and connectivity in four long-ranging mammalian species — jungle cat, leopard, sloth bear, and tiger. The four species have varying body size, diet and dispersal abilities, and are expected to have species-specific responses to fragmentation. The two major objectives of the study were (1) to understand how the genetic structure is partitioned between these four species and (2) to find out how different landscape features like roads, built-up areas, and human density impact connectivity and dispersal in the study species.
~ by Amrita Neelakantan (coordinator NCCI)
Mahi Puri and colleagues have conducted extensive surveys to find out what leopards eat and how might leopard diets change in the future. The study focuses on the important corridor between Kanha and Pench national parks. Leopards live within and outside of forests, with some taking up residence in the agricultural matrix. Wildlife outside the bounds of protected areas interact much more often with humans over a range of human activities – grazing cattle, growing crops and collecting non-timber forest produce to name a few. Understanding how our human lives affect and in turn change the behavior of wild species is important for a future where humans and big cats might continue to live side by side in one of the world’s more populated places that remains vital for global wildlife conservation goals. In addition, the knowledge of benefits provided by carnivore presence can help offset the negative perceptions around these species. Mahi Puri and her team extensively surveyed forest and households across the corridor to make sense of drivers of leopard distribution, conflict, and current patterns of their diet to showcase what might change in the future.
The big takeaway from this paper is that within the surveyed sites leopards predominantly ate wild prey (langur and ungulates) – an important consideration for human-wildlife conflict in the region. Occupancy statistics also highlight that leopards are more likely to be in spots with ample wild-prey confirming that leopards still prefer wild-prey and are not preferentially moving into human dominated areas for non-wild prey (signified by cattle and dog icons in the figures).
The buffer zones, created around the protected areas, acts not only as the insulator and keep away the anthropogenic pressures of local communities from the core zone or ‘critical habitat’ but also provide the habitat to the spill over tigers and other wildlife species from core zones.
The wild animals disperse from their core breeding areas to buffer areas or to further in
corridor areas to establish their territory or to move to other protected areas. Therefore
buffer zones play important role in long-term conservation of animals. The information on dispersal routes, status of wildlife and their habitat in buffer zone is crucial to tailor the management strategies for buffer areas. Therefore a 2-year study in buffer zone of the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve was initiated by The Corbett Foundation to study the dispersal routes of tigers and other wildlife species. Click here for the full report.
The findings of the study indicated that tigers and leopards not only using the buffer zone for dispersal but also establishing their territories in buffer zone. The study recorded 29 mammalian species out of 35 listed species in Bandhavgarh. Asiatic wildcat (Felis silvestris ornata) and smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) were recorded for the first time in Bandhavgarh during this study.
The Corbett Foundation (TCF) has been working in Bandhavgarh-Sanjay Dubri Corridor (BSDC), an important forested landscape that connects Bandhavgarh and Sanjay tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh. Despite being an important connecting corridor of these tiger reserves, awareness about tiger and overall biodiversity conservation in quite low among the villages of BSDC. Community dependence on the forest in BSDC for cattle grazing, firewood collection and collection of minor forest products is very high. There have also been cases of tiger deaths from BSDC in the past raising suspicions about poaching. All this has a direct link to a lack of awareness about the need to conserve the forests and wildlife among the local communities.
Unless the level awareness is raised, it is difficult to expect success in conservation and protection of flora-fauna. Therefore, TCF felt a pressing need to spread environmental awareness among the student community to make them realize the seriousness of the issues at hand.
To bridge this gap, TCF has published a 116-page pictorial booklet titled Hamare Van, Hamare Gaon providing an overall insight about the local biodiversity of BSDC, its ecological values and the need for its conservation. The language of this first-of-its-kind publication purposefully has been kept as hindi so that the contents of the publication and the important conservation message therein reaches to as many schools in BSDC and in Bandhavgarh and Sanjay-Dubri tiger reserves.
The Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) recently launched a website and released a report titled "A Policy Framework for Connectivity Conservation and Smart Green Linear Infrastructure in the Central Indian and Eastern Ghats Tiger Landscape." According to Milind Pariwakam, a wildlife biologist at WCT, while several reports, studies, and guidelines aim to address the issue of mitigating the negative impacts of such linear infrastructure on natural landscapes and conserving the connectivity that they offer to small populations of endangered species of wildlife, there is a lack of timely information on whether a particular project is likely to affect corridor/s.
Pariwakam further states that this report primarily seeks to address this specific lacuna by leveraging on earlier work by other entities and presents a way forward for better planning of linear infrastructure without compromising on the connectivity needs of wildlife. The same framework with improvements can be adopted by the statutory agencies for the other three important tiger landscapes in India, namely, the Western Ghats, Shivalik-Gangetic Landscape and the North East Indian Landscape by incorporating information on the corridors and proposed projects in the respective landscapes. Work is in progress on the other three reports.
Project Spotlight highlights our members' work in Central India.
|Network for Conserving Central India||