KANHA TIGER RESERVE

Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, India is considered to be one of the best managed, conserved and protected areas in the country. Kanha is also among the first nine national parks declared tiger reserves under Project Tiger, now known as the National Tiger Conservation Authority, in 1973-74. Ever since, this tiger reserve has been managed adaptively under thoughtfully developed scientific/technical guidelines clearly linked to ecological restoration, including biodiversity conservation, with all its comprehensible and manageable aspects.

This conservation philosophy has always considered the tiger as the “umbrella species” of a wildlife ecosystem whose continuous protection and management effectively helps save all its prey base and habitats, and ultimately ensures foreseeable perpetuity of the ecosystem.

This all has also make Kanha an excellent ecotourism destination in the country. Kanha and surrounding forest area is regarded as one to the fines tiger landscapes in the country.

In-situ conservation of an “umbrella species” like the Tiger, while conserving the entire gamut of ecosystem, ensures the continuity of many tangible and intangible ecosystem services to the society, in addition to providing to climate change by locking up carbon in the tiger bearing forests.

Kanha has been at the forefront of wildlife conservation management not only in Madhya Pradesh, but the whole country. It has been the crucible where many new management practices were tried, perfected and disseminated in India.

Madhya Pradesh, with an impressive protected area network of 10 national park, and 25 wildlie sanctuaries, including 6 tiger reserves, has always been renowned for its fascinating wilderness heritage. These protected areas are spread across different physiographical areas, climatic zones and forest types and are representatives of regional floral and faunal diversity. They support a wide range of vegetation, grassy glades, water bodies, resulting in varied habitat types. These habitats are home to multitudes of wild animals belonging to different species, some of them endangered, yet awesome and iconic.

In Madhya Pradesh, we have some of the finest managed tiger reserves in the country, and Kanha is one of them. The tiger, regarded as the “spirit of the Indian jungle” is one of the most mesmerizing species on the planet. Facing myriad threats to its bare survival elsewhere in other tiger range-countires in the world, the super-cat is being conserved in Madhya Pradesh with extreme diligence and dedication.

Kanha an embodiment of the concept of biodiversity conservation in the country. The kanha ecosystem is an example of in-situ conservation where the entire range of floral and faunal species with their genetic variations is preserved as part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem. All these concerted efforts have resulted in a viable population of tigers at Kanha.

While Kanha supports great views of panoramic landscapes through the seasons and huge populations of different ungulate species, the tiger, no doubt, remains the star attraction for tourists. All this has made Kanha one to the most sought after wildlife tourism destination in the country.

Kanha is known as an excellent ecological nucleus for the source population of tigers in Central India. Kanha harbors, natural linkages/connectivity with several other wildlife protected areas in the region. Being an important source population, it is imperative that some basic characteristics such as identity, age, sex and movement patterns to be continuously photo-documented for sustained conservation.

One of the fines tiger landscapes of the country, the Kanha landscape has been renowned internationally for its rich flora and fauna, including, of course, the iconic tiger. Whole the Kanha landscape is not notified/legally declared as such, evidently, it is named after the famous Kanha tiger reserve, part of the landscape. And in the Kanha tiger reserve lies the source of the geneology of most tigers spread over this landscape. Speaking generally, this landscape of around 3500 sq.km, for immediate pratical purposes, currently incorporates the Kanha core, the Kanha buffer, the Phen wildlife sanctuary, parts of ecological corridors (Kanha-Pench, Kanha-Achanakmar, and Kanha-Nawegaon-Nagzira), and areas under different forest divisions contiguous to the Kanha tiger reserve.

Consequently, the landscape supported a wide range of wildlife species, including carnivores herbivores and birds. Naturally, tigers too were abundant, and made the area famous for hunting, for sport or otherwise. These forest tracts were regarded as some of the finest and hitherto untouched wilderness areas in the country. Many widely-travelled Indian and British conservationists were in awe of this region.

Currently, while the tiger reserve is regarded as one of the best managed tiger forest, the rest of the landscape is still struggling with effective conservation initiatives, and is faced with typical Indian conditions of biotic and developmental pressures coupled with highly prioritized production forestry goals and objectives.

Situated in the Mandla and Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh, the Kanha tiger reserve in regarded as one of the finest wildlife protected areas in India. The tiger reserve (2074 sq.km,) consists of two conservation entities, namely, the core zone (917.43 sp.km.) and the technically still a national park, is occupied by villages. The core or the critical tiger habitat is almost completely surrounded by the buffer zone barring part of the eastern boundary running along the Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh interstate border.

The Halon and Banjar valleys, forming the eastern and the western parts, two ecological units, of the core zone respectively, are connected by a narrow ridge/ corridor known as the “chicken’s neck”. The Phen wildlife sanctuary, a satellite micro-core, of 110.74 sq.km., is also under the tiger reserve management Legally, however, the sanctuary has its own status as a protected area.

Besides, a viable population of the highly endangered tiger, the flagship species, now-a-days debated passionately the world over for its protection, is also being conserved most successfully. The protected area also harbours a wide range of faunal species, some of which figure prominently in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Some of these species are the wild dog, sloth bear, smooth coated otter, leopard, tiger, gaur and python. There are 43 species of mammals and 26 of reptiles. The floral diversity is comprised of around 850 species belonging to 506 genera and 134 families, and 22 species of Pteridophyte belonging to 14 genera and 14 families. The above flora of the protected area also includes around 50 species of aquatic and 18 species of rare plants.

The tiger reserve is also rich n avifauna, and over 300 species of birds have been reported by various workers. The protected area also supports a variety of lesser fauna, which include numerous varieties of insects, including butterflies, moths and beetles; reptiles, fishes and other lesser life forms, and all these contribute significantly to the functioning of this wildlife ecosystem.

Though connectivity between Kanha tiger reserve and these protected areas may be fragile, there is an ample scope for ensuring gene flow from the Kanha core conservation unit by resorting to appropriate site-specific restorative management. Thus, the tiger reserve is considerably significant as a conservation nucleus. Three corridors have been identified for the tiger reserve: Kanha-Pench, Kanha-Achanakmar (CG), and Kanha-Nawegaon-Nagzira (MH).

Tiger conservation at Kanha involves a wide range of management practices throughout the year to ensure a viable population of tigers. While some of the conservation practices aim at protecting wildlife and its habitat from all forms of offences, including poaching and destruction, the others stabilize deteriorating habitat conditions and improve different habitat types to help sustain thousands of ungulates. Ecodevelopment practices are carried out in the villages of the buffer zone to win public confidence and support for wildlife conservation. Wildlife health management is another important conservation practice. Some important conservation practices directly related to the betterment of wilderness, specially in the core zone, are as under:

Protection

Security of wildlife and its habitat in the tiger reserve has been accorded the top most priority, and the Kanha management has identified several issues related to protection: all forms of poaching, illegal entry, illicit grazing, illicit felling, illicit extraction of minor forest produce and wildlife produce, and encroachment etc. these issues are being addressed under different strategies.

Habitat Improvement

This is another very important conservation practice, specially in the core, and includes use of prescribed fire t osave habitat in the simmer, raising relief exclosures on severely grazed grassalands for 1-2 seasons, restocking of degraded grasslands by preparing the select sites and planting grass slips and enclosing them for 1-2 seasons, and lantana, annual weed and brushwood eradication to maintain the health of grasslands.

Water Development

Water development is a very important conservation input, and in the present context includes the distribution and quantity of water, not only in the dry regions, but also where it is plentiful. There is a good number of water bodies – anicuts, stop-dams, earthen tanks, perennial streams and rivers – that need to be deepened, destilted, and reshaped to help them retain water as long as possible before the rains. Water tankers are also used to fill saucers in some areas of the core zone in the pinch period.

Wildlife Health Management

The surveillance and monitoring of wildlife diseases under comprehensive wildlife health management is another concern of the Kanha management. The reserve has a modest veterinary setup, with a wildlife veterinarian also trained in wildlife management.

Chital Translocation

The chital is the most numerous of ungulate species and forms the main prey base of tigers in the Kanha tiger reserve. In spite of the large population of chital in the core zone, its distribution over the protected area is rather patchy or uneven due to geographical barriers and suboptimal habitat quality in some areas, and also due to priority based grassland management in several relocated village sites. In general, this had resulted in the low and high densities of chital in the Halone and Banjar valley areas respectively. Over the past several months, around 950 chital have thus been captured and translocated for release at several relocated villages. Needless to add, natural build-up of animal population would take a considerable long time, and this active managerial intervention would facilitate fast multiplication and also attract carnivores.

In the Madhya Pradesh of the 1950s, the Kanha areas was under South Mandla (T) Division. When the Kanha National Park was established in 1955, the pressure of tourism was very low, and only important persons/tourists visiting the park used to be carried on elephant backs for jay rides.

The present core zone, wherein lies the tourism zone, initially had a modest beginning of wildlife tourism in the early 1970s, and till 1975-76 fewer than 5000 tourists visited the protected area every year. The present core zone had recently been declared a tiger reserve, and it offered only a raw splendor of nature, including a wide range of ungulate species and, of course tigers, which had always been the main attraction.

The Kanha management, to achieve the objectives of touris, delimited a substantial and most potential area of tigers in the core zone as a tourism zone. this tourism zone consisted mainly of the lower slopes and valleys, and supported excellent sal forests, bamboo and climber species, extensive grasslands and perennial streams and water bodies. Consequently, this zone harbored an outstanding plain mosaic of wildlife habitats. This habitat mosaic, specially the grasslands of the present Kanha and Mukki ranges, the mainstay of wildlife habitats supported thousands of ungulate species and afforded easy and great sightings for tourists.

During this time, the visits of some statesmen and foreign royalties to Kanha were also much publicized, and the core zone always remained in the limelight. The number of tourists grew consistently over the years. Initially, there were only two entry gates to the core zone, one at Khatia and the other at Mukki. The Sarhi gate was also opened sometime later. This resulted in new government accommodations for tourists, museums, orientation centers and availability of publicity material about the core zone.

while tiger shows are now no longer organized for tourists, some elephants are hired by visitors for commercial filming and photography.

Tigers of Kanha

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