India hosts about half (1,700) of the endangered wild tigers (Panthera tigris) left in the world. They face serious threats of extinction, especially, as a result of poaching, habitat-destruction and lack of connectivity between forests. Probably, the single largest wild population of this big cat in the world is supported by the Western Ghats Landscape Complex of South India, which hosts around 400 tigers, mostly in the contiguous forests of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR). Encompassing about 5,520 km2 forests cross three states, namely, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, NBR falls within one of the Biodiversity Hotspots of the world, the Western Ghats. There are many protected areas (PA) in the region, such as the National Parks (and Tiger Reserves) of Bandipur, Nagarhole and Mudumalai, and the Wildlife Sanctuary of Wayanad. These forests are all connected with each other, allowing passage to big and threatened mammals like tigers and elephants, among others, connecting big source populations. The landscape complex of Bandipur, Nagarahole, Mudumalai and Wayanad is also home to the single largest Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) population in the world, by forming part of the Mysore Elephant Reserve that covers 6,700 km2.
However, the area is also highly populated. About 120 villages in Bandipur Tiger Reserve’s (BTR) buffer area has a total population of nearly 300,000 people. This has resulted in tremendous pressure on the forests witnessing a considerable number of cases where wild animals get injured or dead, as a result of straying into nearby human settlements. Daily, hundreds move in and out of the PA to collect firewood and non-timber forest products (NTFP) and grazing cattle; such movement makes it easy for poachers to operate in the area, especially using silent methods, such as snares and traps. The following are the main threats to wildlife in the landscape: (1) poaching; (2) illegal logging; (3) human-wildlife conflicts; (4) illegal encroachments; (5) invasive plant species; (6) forest fire (anthropogenic); (6) expansion of linear infrastructure; (7) lack of trained and motivated forest staff; (8) grazing; and (9) tourism. Since 2009, WTI has been working in BTR to address poaching; human-wildlife conflicts; and lack of capacity among the forest staff.
The goal of the project is to ensure adequate protection to tiger; and sustained availability of timely and quality veterinary care in Bandipur National Park and Tiger Reserve.
ACTIVITY 1 – Capacity building of the Special Tiger Protection Force
Poaching is one of the reasons behind tiger’s plight in the country; of the 247 wild tigers found dead during the past four years, 70% were killed by poachers.2In 2012, the KFD created the Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) as a team focused on the protection of tigers and its habitats. The 110-strong STPF unit conducts regular patrolling and monitoring in and around the Tiger Reserve to minimize crime against tiger and its prey species. Though they have undergone Police training under the Karnataka State Police Academy, the STPF members lacks formal training in wildlife conservation and park management; they even lacked knowledge about the relevant wildlife law, the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 (WPA). Upon a request from the Bandipur management, WTI started work to capacity-build and morale-boost the STPF unit, to ensure strengthened protection to BTR.
Since 2012, the WTI-CWI team has conducted four Capacity-Building Workshops for the Force. The workshop focuses on the following aspects of field-levecrime prevention:
In the proposed project, the STPF will be given annual refresher trainings (three sessions/year to 110 STPF members) to improve their performance. The project will also fully equip the Force with top quality field gear (a kit includes a rugged rucksack, torch, water bottle, raincoat, etc.)
ACTIVITY 2 – Anti-snare walks
The team also conceptualized and pioneered Anti-Snare Walks (ASW)—joint forest walks to identify and remove snares—with the STPF in Bandipur. The Walks have proven to be a considerable success from the sheer number of snares removed (1,100, to date) and from the overwhelming response the team and the activity got from the authorities, local organizations and communities, who themselves are conducting ASW’s in forestfringe areas. In 2015-16, the team will conduct 150 days of anti-snare walk in the Park, along with STPF. The team will ensure that the GPS location of each snare (or evidence of spent snare) removed will be recorded. This will help the team in plotting the locations on a map, to find the most snare-prone parts of the Park. WTI staff will also support the general frontline forest staff and other organizations doing ASW’s in the area.
ACTIVITY 3 - Providing Quality Veterinary Care in BTR
In 2013 alone, 27 cases of leopards and six cases of tigers straying out into human settlements were reported in BTR. There were also many such situations involving small mammals; many are not properly recorded by KFD or non-governmental agencies. In most such cases, the animals get killed or injured, and the Park management lacks proper facilities to rescue and treat these animals, on time. Currently, the only veterinary support available for the Park is provided by the Mysore Zoo, situated about 90 Km away. Even this support is not received on time, due to the regular work load of the zoo veterinarians. Hence, there is a pressing need for a Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS) unit in the region, to help the park management to provide medical care to troubled wild animals, vaccinate cattle around the park (to prevent zoonotic diseases from spreading to wild animals) and provide proper post-mortem and other forensic support in case of wildlife deaths and suspected crimes. Ensuring proper availability of a skilled veterinarian and an equipped unit could lead to proper monitoring of the health of the wildlife in region, improving the park management system. The KFD has expressed its interest to WTI in supporting an MVS unit in Bandipur, with the department providing the needed infrastructure and backup support (including in-patient treatment). The officials also assured exploring possibilities of providing partial funding to the MVS unit, after getting an approval from the Karnataka State Wildlife Advisory Board. Hence it is proposed to establish and MVS unit in Bandipur National Park. The unit shall have at least one veterinary doctor; one assistant; and a fully equipped four-wheeler ambulance. There is a confidence-building and awareness-creation angle to this proposed project.
Sub activity 1- Attending Wildife emergency cases in Bandipur by providing veterinary support
The MVS teams will be alert round the clock and in constant touch with the KFD officials, communities and other stakeholders to identify cases of wild-animal injuries and other emergencies. The team, with a fully equipped vehicle will attend cases within and around the BTR boundaries. The team will have a trained and experienced veterinary doctor and an assistant, with needed paraphernalia to attend such cases, rescue, treat and release the animal. WTI expects the KFD to provide in-patient facilities, in case animals need such care and rehabilitation.
Sub activity2 - Providing veterinary care to livestock in the region
The unit will take special care in the health of the livestock of BTR, with a primary objective to prevent spread of zoonotic diseases. To date, the units have vaccinated thousands of cattle important Tiger Reserves and National Parks in India(e.g. Dudhwa, Kaziranga, Similipal and Manas). The proposed unit in Bandipur will also work to monitor the health of and annually vaccinate the livestock in and around the area. Normally, vaccinations are provided against diseases such as foot and mouth disease; black quarter; and hemorrhagic septicemia. Common ailments treated by other MVS units are diarrhea, debility and injuries. Vaccination camps will be conducted to cover maximum number of villages in the area; the team targets to reach at least 60 villages in the first year. It will also take special care to supplement the government veterinary systems in forest-fringe villages to provide special veterinary care to local livestock, on a need basis, as a confidence-building measure.