The Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, known as the habitat of the Asiatic elephant, has become a safe haven for tigers.
A recently concluded tiger monitoring conducted by the Forest Department and the WWF-India in the sanctuary has revealed that it may house the largest population of tigers in South India, after Karnataka's Bandipur Tiger Reserve, a sanctuary adjacent to the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.
The study revealed that the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, spread over 344.44 sq. km and part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, was home to as many as 80 tigers, including 10 cubs, sanctuary officials toldThe Hindu .
Camera trapping, where individual tigers are identified from photographs showing their unique stripe patterns, was the primary method used to count the tiger population. As many as 32 cameras were used simultaneously in each forest range of the sanctuary and it took nearly four months to complete the exercise, the officials said.
Nearly 1,200 photographs of the wild cats were recorded and the information subsequently analysed using a scientific framework, they said.
Data with the Ministry of Environment and Forests showed that in 2010, the total tiger population in the country was 1,706 as against 1,411 in 2006. The healthy habitat and topography of the Wayanad sanctuary helped tigers to flourish there. The sanctuary is an integral part of the forest block in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, including the Muthumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu and Bandipur and Rajiv Gandhi National Park at Nagarhole in Karnataka, that is spread over 3,000 sq. km. The proximity of the sanctuary to the Bandipur and Muthumalai reserves proved significant in protecting the big cats.
A few decades ago, when elephant poachers posed a serious threat to the forests of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the officials of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary implemented stringent measures, under Project Elephant, to check poaching.
The measures, such as setting up anti-poaching camps inside the sanctuary and intensified patrolling, not only curbed poaching but also helped to multiply the herbivore population in the sanctuary.
This paved the way for setting up a healthy habitat for the tiger, the forest officials said. Declaring the sanctuary as a tiger reserve is the need of the hour to implement eco-development programmes and speed up relocation programmes to ensure long-time conservation measures.