Bhubaneswar: The future of the tiger in Similipal forests will be determined by how much the government is going to invest
in wildlife management and intensive tiger conservation across adjoining forests and connectivities which Similipal has with neighbouring states.
The consolidation of Similipal-Satkosia Tiger Corridor apart, what is significantly gaining importance is the need for ensuring forest connectivity between those of Odisha, with that of Jharkhand and then on with the forests of Bihar, Chattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh.
This might be a possible link for animal sustainability in the central Indian- eastern Indian landscape, which will replicate India’s other success stories of conservation and result in an increase in tiger population. This will enable tigers from secured habitats being able to move out into new areas for territory, within this landscape.
Odisha forests’ connectivity with those of Jharkhand especially Saranda forests assume major importance here. Saranda is also a prime elephant habitat and forms the core of the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve. It has been reporting presence of tigers of and on. Although the mining pattern in the Saranda forest forced the
elephant to move to Odisha which has now become a regular pattern. Elephant herds move from Saranda to Similipal in Odisha through the Badam Pahar (Odisha) –Dhobadhobin (Jharkhand) forest corridor and Badam Pahar (Odisha)–Karida (Jharkhand) forest corridor. Also, the major source population of tigers in Odisha is in Similipal. It has the potential to sustain a much larger population size due to its large habitat, and there might
be a possibility that the tiger population, if increased, would also migrate through these connecting corridors, along the landscape, if properly secured and managed.
Wild tigers occupy around 7% of their historic range in the world and occupy less than 40% of the habitat they did in the 1990s. Most of the remaining tiger populations today inhabit increasingly fragmented and isolated patches of land in an expanding human-dominated landscape.
Over the last several years, India has been working to improve tiger conservation by declaring as many protected Tiger Reserves as possible — with the state of Odisha having notified 2 (two) viz. Similipal Tiger Reserve & Satkosia-Baisipalli Tiger Reserve. A Tiger Reserve is a category of Protected Area (PA) under the
provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, and has administrative and funding mechanisms that are different from other categories of PAs.
However, because landscapes outside the tiger reserves are changing so drastically, just protecting isolated islands of habitat surrounded by an ocean of development will not be enough to protect the big cats into the future. Mainly because tigers don’t stay inside Tiger Reserve boundaries. Maintaining connectivity through corridors across a ‘Landscape’ is therefore vital for tiger recovery and for maintaining local support for tiger conservation.
It is here that the Central Indian-Eastern Indian Tiger Landscape assumes critical importance, for the future of tigers of not only Similipal Tiger Reserve, but across a host of protected areas located therein viz. Gautam Buddha Wildlife Sanctuary in Bihar, Koderma WLS, Hazaribagh WLS, Lawalong WLS, Palamau
Tiger Reserve, and Saranda forest in Jharkhand, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and Sanjay Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, Guru Ghasidas Tiger Reserve in Chattisgarh and Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha. This landscape is based on the assumption that the landscape would have been contiguous in the not so distant
past and therefore forms a common gene pool.
Conservationists have been voicing for securing this landscape in the coming years. However, there are some limitations to corridor connectivity between these protected areas, with linear
development projects and anthropogenic pressures as the common ones. Many national highways pass through these protected areas, and several others are in the queue for permission. Such infrastructure has an essential contribution to habitat fragmentation. Increased iron mining intensity in the Saranda forest poses a threat to the remaining forest corridor that connects the Saranda and Similipal Tiger reserve.
Although this part of India has been heavily modified by human activity (more than half of the total area we studied is cultivated), there are still opportunities to maintain connectivity between the different reserves and protected areas.
Tiger Reserves are incredibly important as anchors for conserving tigers in India, but as the pressures of development mount outside the reserves, land managers and decision makers will need to consider how tigers use the landscape outside the reserves. These linkages need to be identified and protected in order topreserve natural biological processes such as long-range movements, which are integral for large carnivore conservation.
A landscape-based conservation approach is what required for tiger conservation for Similipal in Odisha.
These landscapes also support some of the most vulnerable and marginalized human populations as well as critical ecosystem functions. At the same time, pressures on these areas are also immense and include hydropower development; road and rail expansion; logging and extractive industries; and an expanding agricultural estates. As a landscape species requiring large and diverse habitats, rich in prey and with minimal human
disturbance, the challenges to the long-term survival of tiger are clear. Protecting and restoring the ecological integrity of such landscapes is considered the last line of defense against tiger extinction in the wild