Tiger translocation project: Need and significance – Explained, pointwise

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The Tiger Translocation Project in India, the country’s first interstate endeavour, aimed to bolster the tiger population in Odisha’s Satkosia Tiger Reserve. This involved moving tigers from well-populated reserves in Madhya Pradesh, like Bandhavgarh and Kanha. However, the project faced significant hurdles, and the relocated tigers couldn’t adapt to their new habitat. Despite these challenges, the project remains a crucial learning experience, emphasising the need for strategic conservation efforts to protect India’s rich biodiversity.  

About the Tiger Translocation project

Launched in 2018, the Tiger Relocation Project aimed to boost Odisha’s Satkosia Tiger Reserve’s tiger population. Two tigers, Mahavir from Kanha and Sundari from Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, were moved to Satkosia.  

The project had two goals: a) to lessen territorial conflicts by reducing tiger numbers in overcrowded areas, and b) to reintroduce tigers in regions where their populations had dwindled.  

The project, titled “Augmentation and Recovery of Tiger Population in Satkosia Tiger Reserve,” had a budget of Rs 19 crore. The plan was to move six tigers (three pairs) from various Madhya Pradesh reserves to Odisha. So far, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has spent Rs 8 crore of the total budget.  

Note: Recently, India has inked a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia “on biodiversity conservation with a special focus on tiger reintroduction in Cambodia.

Read more: Tiger – Endangered Species

What is the need for the Tiger translocation project?

Overpopulation: The need for tiger translocation arises when certain tiger reserves face overpopulation. This overpopulation can lead to insufficient prey and territorial disputes among tigers, thus causing a threat to their survival. For example, in some reserves of Madhya Pradesh, the surplus population of tigers created a need for relocation.  

Declining Tiger Populations: Tiger translocation is needed when certain regions experience a significant decline in their tiger populations due to reasons like poaching, habitat loss, and human-animal conflict. In such cases, introducing new tigers can help rebuild the population. This need was clearly seen in the case of the Satkosia Tiger Reserve in Odisha, where the tiger population had dwindled to only two by 2018.  

Rising Human-Tiger Conflicts: In areas with high tiger density, instances of human-tiger conflicts often increase. This creates a need for tiger translocation to other areas with fewer tigers to reduce these conflicts and protect both human and tiger lives. This need was prevalent in areas like the Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, where high tiger populations led to increased human-tiger interactions.  

Ecosystem Imbalance: One need for tiger translocation is to restore the balance within ecosystems. Tigers are apex predators, and their presence helps maintain the health of the entire ecosystem by regulating prey populations. Translocating tigers to areas with diminished populations can help restore the balance and prevent potential imbalances caused by overpopulation of prey species.

Read more: Explained: How many tigers are too many

What are the reasons behind the failure of India’s first tiger translocation project?

The failure of India’s first tiger relocation project, involving the translocation of tigers from Madhya Pradesh to the Satkosia Tiger Reserve in Odisha, was attributed to a number of factors:  

Lack of Community Engagement: A key reason was the lack of effective engagement with local communities. The villagers living on the fringes of the reserve were not adequately consulted or informed prior to the translocation. This resulted in severe protests as villagers feared that the tigers would threaten their lives, livestock, and livelihoods.  

Inadequate Preparations and Planning: The translocation was reportedly done in haste, without adequate preparation. The capacity for tiger monitoring was poor, and protection measures were not up to the mark. This left the relocated tigers vulnerable to threats like poaching and human-tiger conflict.  

Territorial Disputes: The presence of an existing tigress in the Satkosia reserve led to territorial disputes. The new tigress, Sundari, was chased away from the core area of the reserve and ended up venturing into human habitation, leading to increased human-tiger conflict.  

Poaching and Human-Tiger Conflict: Within months of the translocation, one of the relocated tigers, Mahavir, was found dead due to poaching. Sundari, the relocated tigress, allegedly mauled two villagers to death, leading to her tranquilization and eventual return to Madhya Pradesh.  

Relocation of Local Villages: The translocation was also complicated by the displacement of local villagers from their homes within the reserve. This sparked opposition and led to additional conflicts between the reserve’s management and the local communities.  

Read more: Tiger Reserves in India (Updated 2023)

What are the advantages of the Tiger translocation project?

Preserving Genetic Diversity: Translocation can also help maintain genetic diversity among tiger populations. Introducing new tigers into a different population can bring new genetic material, reducing the risks associated with inbreeding and helping to maintain a healthy and diverse tiger gene pool.  

Promoting Ecotourism: Tigers are a major draw for ecotourism, which can bring significant economic benefits to local communities. By increasing tiger populations in certain areas through translocation, these projects can help boost local economies by attracting tourists.  

Educational Opportunities: Such projects provide excellent opportunities for research and learning about tiger behaviour, ecology, and conservation needs, which can be useful for future conservation strategies. 

Inspiring Conservation Efforts: Successful translocation projects can inspire and inform similar conservation efforts for other species, contributing to broader biodiversity conservation goals. 

Read more: What numbers do not reveal about tiger conservation

What are the lessons learnt from the Tiger translocation project?

Engaging Local Communities is Essential: The hostility of local communities to the relocated tigers was a significant factor in the failure of the Satkosia project. Future projects must prioritize building trust with local communities, clearly communicating the benefits of the project, and addressing their concerns.  

Robust Monitoring and Protection Measures are needed: The death of Mahavir due to poaching underlines the need for strong protection and monitoring mechanisms. Future projects must ensure robust anti-poaching measures and continuous monitoring of the relocated tigers.  

Consideration of Tiger Behavior and Habitat Suitability: The fact that Sundari shows that understanding tiger behaviour and careful selection of release sites is crucial. Future projects should prioritize areas that can sustain additional tigers and avoid human-tiger conflict.  

Preparedness of the Field Staff and Management: Future projects must ensure that all involved parties are well-prepared and trained to handle the challenges of such a complex operation.  

Clear and Coordinated Inter-State Cooperation: The prolonged process of relocating Sundari back to Madhya Pradesh due to lingering between the two states suggests that clear protocols and strong cooperation between states are required for the smooth execution of inter-state translocation projects.  

What should be done?

Strengthening Monitoring and Protection Measures: More robust measures need to be put in place to safeguard relocated tigers. These could include increased patrolling, the use of technology like GPS tracking collars, and stricter anti-poaching laws.  

Training Field Staff and Management: Field staff and management need to be adequately trained to handle the challenges associated with tiger translocation. They should be prepared to monitor and protect the relocated tigers and manage any issues that arise.  

Prioritizing Voluntary Relocation of Villages: Where possible, voluntary relocation of villages from core tiger habitats should be prioritized. This will help in creating inviolate spaces for tigers and reducing instances of human-tiger conflict.  

Read more: Increasing tiger population in India and government initiatives – Explained, pointwise  

Sources: The Hindu, Indian Express, DTE, The Times of India (Article 1 and Article 2), Financial Express and Hindustan Times

Syllabus: GS 3 – Environment and Bio-diversity: Conservation

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