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200 deer to be released as tiger food
- Cattle deplete herbivore habitat

Alipurduar, Nov. 2: The forest department has decided to release 200 spotted deer in the Buxa Tiger Reserve with its depleted herbivores to expand the prey base for the big cat.

Fifty of the deer will be released in the first phase at the end of this month. The herbivores will be brought from deer enclosures in Cooch Behar’s Rasik Beel, Jalpaiguri’s Kunjanagar and the Adina deer park in Malda.

Till 2009, the BTR authorities had come under a lot of flak since no tiger had been spotted in the reserve located in Jalpaiguri district. But a hazy picture of a big cat clicked by an officer during a tiger census two years ago and a scat analysis last year had confirmed the presence of at least 13 tigers.

The scat samples were examined by wildlife NGO Aranyak in its lab in Guwahati and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad.

Before the scat analysis, the foresters had claimed that they had spotted tigers at least five times but had failed to take pictures. Reports on the sightings too had been sent to the forest department.

Foresters said at least 1 lakh cattle heads enter the BTR core area every year along with their owners. The cattle feed on the grass, the habitat of other herbivores like deer. The depletion in the number of herbivores is a threat to the carnivores.

The total area of the BTR is 761sqkm, of which 390.58sqkm is considered the core area. Of the 38 forest villages, seven are located in the core areas.

Quite a number of villagers have cattle. Their fodder is the grass of the tiger reserve.

Foresters said the World Bank had invested crores of rupees under the India Eco Development Project to bring down the villagers’ dependence on forest resources.

“The Joint Forest Management Scheme under the World Bank project had not worked out according to expectation. Even the response to the awareness schemes did not work out as expected,” said a forester.

In 2009, the central government had declared that the forest villages inside the core areas would be shifted and each family would receive Rs 10 lakh for the shift. The process had started and villagers had submitted the necessary papers too but the cash is yet to arrive.

R.P. Saini, the field director of the BTR, said: “We have developed few natural grassland where we will release the 200 spotted deer in four phases. In the first phase on November 18, 50 deer will be released in Kumargramduar. We have identified the other three places but for the safety of the deer I don’t want to disclose their names. The animals will be released to improve the prey base of the tigers. In the new grasslands the deer will get sufficient fodder.”

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