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Reserve tag on UP tiger park

Lucknow, June 13: The Pilibhit wildlife sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh today officially became a tiger reserve, the state’s third, in a change that officials said would earn it central grants and minimise man-animal conflict.

State principal secretary (forest and wildlife) Pratibha Singh said the government had notified the sanctuary, which has 30 of the state’s 118 big cats according to 2011 central data, as a tiger reserve.

Central approval for the tag came early this month, with sources saying Pilibhit BJP MP and Union minister Maneka Gandhi helped speed up the clearance.

“This is going to be the 45th tiger reserve in the country and the third in the state,” Singh said in a release. The other two are Dudhwa in Lakhimpur Kheri district and Amangarh in Bijnore.

The new status will bring much-needed funds for the Pilibhit reserve from the centre-run National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), state officials said.

India, with 1,706 tigers, has around 68 per cent of the world’s estimated 2,500 big cats, Singh said citing figures from the NTCA.

The largest such reserve in the country is the Jim Corbett Park in Uttarakhand, with over 200 tigers, while the Sunderbans in Bengal had 103 big cats in 2013, officials said.

The Pilibhit reserve, 225km from Lucknow, is spread over 1000sqkm with parts of it along the Nepal border.

“The forests are rich and diverse. The jungles are home to a variety of animals including the tiger,” state chief wildlife warden Rupak De said.

Another official expressed hope that the new status would help the Pilibhit reserve increase its forest cover, improve anti-poaching measures and take steps to ensure the big cats had more prey to feed on.

“Although the tigers have a large prey base, there has been too much interference by people who live on the edges. Such matters should improve now,” the official said.

Such man-animal conflicts occur both ways. At least six persons were killed in 2012 by tigers when they entered the park in search of firewood and forest produce. At other times, the big cats enter hamlets on the fringes in search of food and pounce on villagers. The last fatal tiger attack was on February 19 this year.

The Akhilesh Yadav government is learnt to have consulted Union minister Maneka — a wildlife enthusiast and an ex- environment minister — on the Pilibhit reserve and she promised all help for the park in her constituency.

It took the state four years to win central approval. The process began during previous chief minister Mayawati’s tenure in 2010. Sources said the in-principle approval from came in 2008. But in 2010, a follow-up proposal from the state was returned by the Centre, with sources saying the plan lacked key details like clear demarcations of “core and buffer areas” in the proposed reserve.