Melghat Tiger Landscape Conservation
Melghat Tiger Reserve is located in Satpura Hill Ranges in Amravati District on border with Madhya Pradesh State. Melghat was declared a tiger reserve in 1974 and is one of the first nine tiger reserves in India under Project Tiger of the Government of India. It is the largest tiger reserve in the Maharashtra At present it has an area of 2768 km2, which includes 1550 sq. km core and 1268 sq. km buffer.
Being part of the Satpuda hill ranges Melghat has a very hilly and picturesque terrain. The forests of Melghat are of the type Central Indian dry teak-bearing forests. At one time Melghat was managed as for production of timber from teak and for bamboo and timber from Melghat was considered to be of high quality. With the formation of Melghat Tiger Reserve timber production is only carried out in smaller quantities in the buffer zone.
The tiger is the flagship species of Melghat. The cameras trapping exercise carried out by the Forest Department and WRCS in 2016 puts the minimum tiger population at 60 tigers. Melghat harbours a rich assemblage of wildlife found in Central India including other large carnivores such as the leopard, dhole, sloth bear and hyena, and large herbivores sambar, chital, muntjac, four horned antelope and nilgai. Other large mammal species found in Melghat include jungle cat, langur, rhesus macaque, honey badger (ratel), palm civet, small Indian civet, grey mongoose and Indian porcupine. Melghat is rich in bird species, especially raptors – more than 250 species are found in Melghat. Melghat is considered a stronghold of the critically endangered forest owlet.
The human component of the Melghat landscape includes a large number of villages. The community found in Melghat consists of a variety of Central Indian tribes and forest dwelling communities. The Korkus are the largest tribal community in Melghat. Other communities include the Gawli community, the Gond tribe and several other smaller tribal communities.
Tiger Conservation Project by WRCS
WRCS is carrying out a project for conservation of the magnificent tiger in the wonderful terrain of Melghat since 2012. WRCS is implementing the project in the core and the buffer zone of the tiger reserve. The tiger conservation project in Melghat has a strong component of community involvement and is based on scientific monitoring of the tiger and other wildlife. The project is being carried out in close coordination with the Forest Department. The main components of the project are described below.
Camera trap monitoring of the tiger
Camera trap monitoring of the tiger population was carried out in 2014 and 2015 in the buffer zone of the tiger reserve. Cameras were deployed in all forested parts of the buffer zone. In both years nine tigers were recorded in the buffer zone indicating the high potential of the buffer for tiger conservation. With more protection to wildlife and the habitat, the buffer zone has the capacity to support more tigers.
WRCS has recently started a joint initiative for concurrent monitoring of tiger presence by establishing pressure impression pads (PIP) along known trails of the tiger in the buffer zone.
The community’s dependence on the forest for firewood, timber and NTFP exerts strong degrading pressure on the habitat. WRCS is working for sustainable utilization of the forest resources so that the habitat is conserved while fulfilling the needs of the community.
(“smokeless” firewood stoves A workshop was conducted for implementation of fuel-efficient, chulha). An analysis was conducted of various models of smokeless chulhas to determine which are more fuel-efficient and which are have better acceptability. In the next year WRCS will implement the smokeless chulhas in several villages in Melghat.
Fire is a major cause for degradation of Melghat’s forests. Fire is either lit deliberately or happens while clearing the undergrowth for collection of mahua flowers in summer. WRCS is educating the community to avoid fire by careful control of fire in the mahua season.
Lack of livelihood opportunities is a major issue for forest-dwelling communities. It forces them to migrate outside for jobs or indulge in illicit activities. WRCS is implementing various activities to generate livelihood for the community.
Training in bamboo craft is being imparted to youths to provide income from sale of bamboo articles. WRCS will help to market the articles made by the youths.
The community is being trained to make baskets from PP strapping tapes. This is a very strong material so the baskets produced are strong and durable. The community members have responded very enthusiastically to the training and it is helping to provide them livelihood in the villages. WRCS is helping to market the bags.
WRCS is implementing a two-year environmental education program in ashram shalas (residential schools) in Melghat in partnership with WWF. Students of standards 6th to 9th will be educated through this program. Environmentally aware students will help to conserve this region in the long-term.
Partners and Supporters
The project is being carried out in partnership with the Tiger Reserve authorities in the Core Zone and the territorial Forest Department in buffer zone. WWF-India has been a partner in the Melghat project and has provided financial support from the beginning. WWF-India is also a partner in the environmental education program.
US Fish and Wildlife Service is supporting the project for camera-trap monitoring of the tiger.
WRCS is part of a consortium, with the Forest Department as the main partner, that is recipient of a grant for tiger conservation in Eastern Maharashtra landscape.
Wildlife Conservation Trust is partnering with WRCS for capacity building workshops in Wildlife Law and Wildlife Crime prevention.