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21 Nov 2019, Edition - 1591, Thursday

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Coimbatore

National salute to Sathyamangalam forest

Ajay Kumar Menon

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

These lines of poet William Blake evoke a fearful imagery, more because Blake was an artist too. When early this week as part of the World Tiger Day, the country did rejoice as the big cat numbers grew, people in Coimbatore and nearby Erode had more reasons to be happier. The only award given by the Prime Minister at the function on July 29 was to the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve (STR).

The man behind this achievement of being the best performing tiger reserve was none other than Field Director V Naganathan.

Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) says with pride that the recognition is reason to perform better for him and his staff. STR has consistently recorded more than 30 per cent annual increment in tiger population, the highest for a tiger landscape, Naganathan told The Covai Post.

Carved out in 2013, STR has increased tiger numbers between 2014-18, more than any other tiger reserve in the country. During the previous count, the reserve had 54 plus tigers.

The award by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) was during the release of the fourth cycle of the all-India tiger estimation results coinciding with the Tiger Day.

It is a tough terrain spread over 1,405 sqkm. It is a continuous, yet fragmented, ecosystem till the starting point of the Eastern Ghats and rich in biodiversity. While the other three tiger reserves in Tamil Nadu – Anamalai, Mudumalai and Kalakad Mudanthurai – are in the ‘very good’ category, STR earned its way to this level during this cycle of management effectiveness evaluation. The efforts in good management interventions by Naganathan were acknowledged by none other than the Prime Minister.

Management has been a tough task because it has a human-dominated landscape. There are 28 villages inside the forest and 270 on the fringes, said Naganathan. The challenge has been to reduce the pressure as all these villagers are dependant on forests.

Initiatives to cut down on anthropogenic pressures have helped in seeing tiger numbers grow. Besides, weeds, estimated to be over 20,000 types, have remained a serious threat affecting fodder growth.

Focus has been on tackling four factors, says the Field Director. With a strong human population, fuel demand has resulted in collection of wood. To counter this, STR authorities went in for providing LPG connections to all 28 villages. This has resulted in bringing down wood collection by 80 per cent, says Naganathan. “The remaining will also be tackled soon as we will be giving cookers free of cost to the forest dwellers so that they come out of the traditional ragi dish cooking using firewood.”

Cattle grazing is another serious threat as the number of heads is roughly 3 lakh. Their grazing in forest areas is dangerous and will affect its wealth. Steps are afoot to encourage farmers to use agricultural waste like stalks as fodder. This has started to turn out tasting huge success, he adds.

Minor forest produce collection has been another are where the department is laying focus. Like during collection of honey, gooseberry, broom grass etc people go to the forests for days together which disturbs animal life. There is total ban now on gooseberry collection.

Tribal youth have been recruited in anti-poaching squads which not only provides them employment and but makes them ensure there is no illegal hunting. Larger grazing areas for animals will contribute to improving tiger population.

All-out efforts are being made to bring down human footprint. The stumbling block on this front is religious tourism. There are more than 200 places of worship inside STR and some 20 of them see thousands of pilgrims come annually. They stay for 10-15 days inside the forests, cook there, bathe in the Moyyar river. And by the time they leave, the river is polluted with night soil.

“We have succeeded in stopping all that. All People are allowed to visit the shrine and come back. They are not allowed to cook there and now there’s no litter there,” says Naganathan.

There have been initiatives to check vehicular movement especially as the Bengaluru-Coimbatore NH runs for over 20 km through the core area of the reserve. From as high as 6,000 vehicles daily, it has been brought down to 300.

Besides, there is the forest pond scheme which ensures that water sources do not go dry by the start of summer itself. The Banasura Sagar dam has been a boon for the animals.

All these have made movement of animals easier, raised prey density, brought down territorial conflict, all helping tigers to grow in numbers too, Naganathan says.

These are all steps to reduce pressure and tiger numbers are growing. Intervention is to start and once the projects get going, results would be much better, says the committed forest official.

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