Shhhh! It is a fresh tiger kill! There should be tiger nearby…. The team of tiger trackers and the Range Officer talk in hushed tones after coming upon the Sambhar carcass. They look for the Tiger’s pugmarks in the sands beside the tall grasses on the banks of the river. “Angad ka pugmark hai. Size dekhiye (It is Angad’s pugmark. Look at the size),” the tiger tracker explains.
This is a routine state of affairs for the patrolling parties of Valmiki Tiger Reserve of Bihar during their daily forays in this dense tropical jungle. This jungle, the only Tiger Reserve of North Bihar, was brought under ‘Project Tiger’ on March 11, 1994, as the 18th Tiger Reserve of India.From then onwards, it has been a continuous uphill journey for the Bihar Forest Department, which has brought these forests to the present state, teeming with wildlife and makes this 898.73 sq km reserve as one of the best success stories in tiger conservation.
The Valmiki Tiger Reserve encompasses foothill ranges of Himalayan Siwaliks with mosaic of cliffs, ridges, gorges, hills and valleys, besides dense forests, open woodlands and grasslands. Boulder and pebble deposits by the Himalayan rivers in foothills characterize the bhabhar tract while the finer sediments deposits feature terai lands. Criss-crossing and meandering rivers, streams and rivulets, canals and swamps feature on these lands. These pristine forests are home to a large variety of mammals, notable among them being the sloth bear, leopard, Indian gaur, hyena, wild dogs, barking deer, spotted deer, hog dear, sambar, blue bull, leopard cat, wild cat, fishing cat, Himalayan pangolin, wild boar, serow, civets, flying squirrel etc and above all, the Tiger! In addition, these forests boast of a diverse avian fauna and plant diversity. Crocodiles and gharials abound in river Gandak. The reserve also houses many snake varieties, including the big five i.e. king cobra, common cobra, krait, russel’s viper and saw scaled viper.
In the 80s and 90s, these forests were worked by the Forest Development Corporation for timber. A large number of stone crushers were engaged in pebble mining. Funds for conservation programmes and salaries of staff were meagre. Wildlife criminals were active. The conditions for proper wildlife management were highly adverse. Wildlife diversity and Tiger’s prey base was abysmal, resulting in low tiger numbers.
From 2000, the picture began to change. The Supreme Court banned stone mining in the reserve which resulted in improvement of green cover and water regime inside the reserve. The Patna High Court ordered animal passages to be built across the railway lines passing through the reserve. The constitution of the National Tiger Conservation Authority also helped in improving the flow of funds. Shift from pugmark technique of tiger census to scientific camera trap method resulted in accurate counting of tiger numbers. The VTR management actively busted wildlife crime gangs. The local youth of Tharu and Oraon tribes as well as others were engaged as tiger trackers besides the regular staff, which gave a boost to protection regime. Increase in public awareness through education, extension and eco-tourism further helped in conservation.
During the last decade, the weeds have been removed, grasslands have regenerated and expanded, patrolling and vigil have become more intense. As a result, the prey base for the tiger has increased manifold and many species, which were once visitors from the Nepal side, have come to stay- Gaur herds being one of them. This has resulted in resurgence of the tiger. The tiger numbers in the reserve (discounting tiger cubs less than one year of age) has gradually increased from 10 in 2010 to 31 in 2018!*This is a three-fold increase within a decade.
Today, the tiger conservation in Bihar is looked upon as one of the great success stories. The 2018 All India Tiger Estimation ranked VTR as ‘Very Good’ in ‘Management Effectiveness Index’ with a total of 75.78% alongside Karnataka, MP, Tamilnadu and Kerala. VTR’s ‘per hectare value’ has been adjudged the highest in the country – NO WONDER THE TIGERS HAVE, AT LAST, FOUND A SAFE AND SECURE HOME IN BIHAR!
Source:- * National Tiger Conservation Authority, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, New Delhi – All India Tiger Estimation, 2010 and 2018
Dipak Kumar Singh, I.A.S.
Department of Environment, Forests and Climate Change
Government of Bihar