Since time immemorial humans have been settling in forest tracts of Central India. Consequently large contiguous tract of forests have been cleared for agriculture and settlement. Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Vindhya Range was once part of Central Indian Highlands connected with the Maikal Hills of Satpura Range. This is the meeting point of two ranges at Amarkantak Hills.
With the sharp decline in forested area and destruction of grassland habitats. Due to reducing habitats major species inhabiting these pristine ecosystem began to decline sharply. One such example is the Swamp Deer or Barasingha whose population has declined sharply all over India. The animal is not found anymore in most of its historical range.
The gaur and the tiger have suffered a similar fate along with many other life forms. The expanding human population have ruthlessly usurped the homes of less fortunate living forms. The initiation of protected areas was to preserve the last remaining shreds of the forests in Central India. The policy much welcomes by nature lovers and the only recourse did not find approval with the locals.
The protected area concept created core zones and made them inviolable for humans. This was an exercise to provide beleaguered wildlife and nature a living space undisturbed by human interference and resource utilization. This was a timely step and there augured a remarkable recovery in the protected space.
A substantial number of settlements were relocated but many remained. The presence of large number of human population with livestock and poor agricultural practice has emerged as an insurmountable problem in time to come.
The man animal conflict:
With constant growth in human population in the villages in the buffer the conflict began to increase. The animals depending upon the periphery of the core zone found the settlements as stumbling blocks. The livestock population and land clearance for agriculture brought about a severe competition between the wild denizens and people. The ingress upon agriculture fields which were once natural grasslands and livestock lifting by big cats initiated revenge killing and encouraged poaching. The inherent corruption in the system makes compensation for livestock kill ineffective. Not every inhabitant labels tiger and others as evil, many worship them.
In absence of proper implantation of relocation schemes the problem remains in its destructive form. This is further compounded by political interference and administrative lethargy. The constant takeover natural lands augurs severe biotic pressure in the periphery. The dependance of livestock upon forest vitiate the problem further as it invites illegal ingress into the protected area.
There needs a paradigm shift in conceptualizing the buffer which should now accommodate spill over population if the tiger has to be saved. This calls for urgent relocation of populations with the National Park.
The poor infrastructure, inferior health care facility, poor education and lack of irrigation facilities will continue to hamper the quality of living of populations well below the poverty line. The dependance on minor forest produce does not yield enough and in turn exerts biotic pressure on the ecosystem. The tourism at Bandhavgarh has provided livelihood to the locals but more needs to be done. Proper relocation is the answer that will deliver the beleaguered population in the core and the buffer.
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The Last Wilderness