Kawal WLS (Andhra Pradesh), September 30, 2010: Decline in prey due to high poaching pressure and habitat degradation due to severe encroachment and resource extraction notwithstanding, Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary, a critical tiger habitat in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh can potentially support 2.69 tigers per 100 sq km area, according to a recent study. The estimate was an outcome of an MSc research (NCBS and WCS India programme) supported by Department of Science and Technology and implemented under the framework of Kawal Conservation Project, a joint venture of Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society (HyTiCoS) and Andhra Pradesh Forest Department, supported by Nimmagadda Foundation and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).
“One of the main conservation hurdles in Kawal WLS is the lack of baseline data on the populations of tigers and their prey; based on a recent estimate by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (May 2008), there are a minimum of four tigers here. Our study shows that Kawal has enough ungulate prey to support 20-25 tigers; thus the number of tigers here can be increased with effective conservation measures,” said Imran Siddiqui, HyTiCoS.
Seized poaching equipment
A major catchment of river Godavari and spread over 892.23 sq km, Kawal WLS forms a critical connection between forests in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. In addition to biotic pressure from about 127 villages located within a few kilometers of the sanctuary, Kawal also faces threats from bush meat hunting, teak extraction, and clearing of large tracts of forests in anticipation of the sanctioning of the Forest Rights Act.
The Kawal Conservation Project was sanctioned as a Rapid Action Project early this year, to address the threats to the tiger population and to minimise habitat destruction in the sanctuary.
“Kawal Conservation project takes a holistic approach to wildlife conservation in Kawal WLS using tigers as flagship,” asserts Radhika Bhagat, Officer-in-Charge, Wild Aid division, WTI. “One of the primary concerns of the project is to generate baseline data which is crucial for strategising conservation actions for the tiger and its habitat. Alongside, the project also helps strengthen anti-poaching efforts, spread awareness and mobilise local support for wildlife conservation.”
As part of capacity building exercise, three trainings and workshops have been organised for Forest Department staff by Dr Rakesh Kumar Singh, Chief Training Officer, WTI. Two trainings were for the frontline staff and were attended by 104 frontline staff and project implementers who were trained on wildlife tracking, patrolling, forming a network of informers and handling wildlife offences. The participants were provided with field kits upon successful attendance at training.
Workshop on Wildlife Protection Act and effective handling of wildlife cases
Additionally, a two-day workshop was organised on Wildlife (Protection) Act and effective handling of wildlife cases for senior Forest Department staff. “It was an excellent workshop and now it is time to act and make this training a success,” said Hitesh Malhotra, Principal Conservator of Forests (wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, Government of Andhra Pradesh, who presided the workshop. “This workshop was an eye opener and will be very useful in filing poaching cases,” added Md Ibrahim, Conservator of Forests (Adilabad).
The project implementers also undertake regular patrolling drives to locate traps placed to capture animals for bush meat or otherwise.
“On an average, we have been dismantling about 30 different types of traps and foiling four poaching attempts every month. Working with the Forest Department staff, we have been able to stop over 10 instances of teak extraction and are assisting in the prosecution of more than 10 wildlife offenders,” said Siddiqui.“Tigers are known to be a resilient species, and flagging populations can bounce back if provided with sufficient protection, good forest cover and adequate prey density. Our project aims for revival of Kawal and to ensure that tigers thrive here,” said Bhagat.