Wildlife Occupancy Survey in Satpura-Melghat Tiger Corridor
The rise in anthropogenic activities over the past few centuries has led to the fragmentation of wildlife habitat. In the process isolated populations become susceptible to local extinction. A wildlife corridor is a strip of habitat that connects two wildlife populations, and enables movement between the two connected populations for food, habitat and mates. These corridors are especially important for large mammals like tigers, dhole, and leopard. The 2006 amendment of Wildlife Protection Act gives recognition to tiger corridors and gives protection to them.
The Satpura-Melghat corridor lies in the Satpura hill range and connects the Satpura Tiger Reserve with Melghat tiger Reserve. It spreads over an area of 9000 sq km. It has a hilly terrain and is dominated by dry deciduous teak-bearing forests. The region is inhabited by tribal communities such as Korku, Gond, Pardhi and non-tribal communities like Yadav and Gawli. They are predominantly agricultural communities. However they depend on forests to a considerable extent. Their livelihood depends on forest produce like firewood, fodder for cattle, and forest produce like awla, mahua, tendu patta, chironji and harvest honey.
Wildlife Research and Conservation Society (WRCS) has been working on tiger conservation in Central India for many years. In 2021, we carried out an occupancy survey to study the distribution of major wildlife species and their occupancy in the Satpura-Melghat corridor, as well as the threats to wildlife conservation in the corridor.
The entire corridor area was divided into a grid of 144 sq. km. cells (see map) which were subdivided into smaller cells of 36 sq. km. and 9 sq. km. The survey was carried out by walking trails of 10 km length in every 36 sq. km. cell. Along each trail, the team made detailed observations of wild animal presence based on signs such as scat, dung, tracks, scrapes, scratch marks and digging signs. Simultaneously, they recorded information on the habitat, terrain, and human-related threats such as tree cutting, fire, human presence, linear constructions and vehicular activity. We conducted interviews with forest officers and local communities in each forest range that we surveyed, to understand their issues and problems, and their interaction with the forests and wildlife. The main problem was the crop damage
caused by the wild herbivores. Sloth bear attacks on humans were not uncommon.
Through the survey, we came across many signs and direct sightings of wild animals. The most common large carnivore was the leopard, followed by the sloth bear. Tiger signs were found in all divisions, but they were uncommon. In the dense forest patches of North Betul and Hoshangabad divisions, we found a fairly good presence of dhole (Asiatic wild dog). Among the herbivores, muntjac (barking deer), and blue bull were the most common species followed by sambar. Although large wildlife species are fairly well dispersed in the corridor, the chances of sighting them are slim because of their low density. Hyena, wolf, and four-horned antelope were found rarely and were confined to particular areas in the corridor.
Many volunteers helped us in the completion of the survey. Our team was led by Pavan and Kaushal. We received tremendous support from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra Forest Department. WWF-India helped us in designing the survey.
We thank the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the grant which enabled us to carry out the occupancy survey in the Satpura-Melghat corridor.