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More grassland cover for big cats at VTR

- Experts believe rise in meadow area at Madanpur range will help tigers hunt herbivores easily

Patna, July 26: Authorities at Valmiki Tiger Reserve (VTR) are mulling increasing the grassland coverage in Madanpur range to develop favourable habitat for the big cats.

At present, only 5 per cent of 880sqkm of the reserve comes under grassland. The grassland development work would provide a more congenial habitat for herbivores, the prey base of tigers. According to the annual census conducted by the state environment and forests department in 2013, the number of big cats in the reserve was assessed at 22.

“Extensive grassland helps in having a good habitat for herbivores, which constitute the prey base for tigers. We have decided to take up grassland development because no such work has been done in this reserve over the past 25-30 years. We have chosen Madanpur because around 70 per cent of the total grassland falls in this range or in the riverine area. A proposal requesting funds in this regard has already been sent to the environment and forests department,” VTR conservator-cum-field director Santosh Tiwari said.

Grassland in tiger reserves with grass up to 10ft provides double benefit for tigers. They not only provide favourable habitat for herbivores — the prey for tigers but also facilitate hideout during hunting for the big cats.

“At present, we are contemplating undertaking grassland development over 25sqkm in Madanpur range and the respective annual cost for the same is expected to be around Rs 15,000 to Rs 16,000 per year,” said Tiwari.

The VTR authorities also claimed that respective work would require fencing of the Madanpur range along the boundary of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. “Fencing along the Uttar Pradesh boundary is very important before taking up this work as hundreds of cattle normally come for grazing. Our work would not be fruitful if cattle from outside graze on the newly grown grass and return back,” said Tiwari.

Experts claimed that the grassland development should be done in consideration with the herbivore species to be promoted in the selected area. “Herbivores like cheetal, sambhar, hog deer, wild boar barking deer and others are preferred prey for tigers. Accordingly, the VTR authorities should first priorities the herbivore species, whose population needs to be increased. The grassland management plan should be executed accordingly,” said Sameer Sinha, manager of Wildlife Trust of India working at VTR.

Deliberating on the problems of grassland development, Sameer said: “The VTR authorities should take proper care of several issues related to grassland, including uncontrolled fire, cattle grazing and thatch collection.”

VTR is located 289km nor-th of Patna in the Tarai region of the Himalayas extending to Royal Chitwan National Park and Parsa Wildlife Sanctuary of Nepal on its north and Uttar Pradesh on its west. Field director Tiwari claimed that the core area of VTR is 495sqkm, whereas the buffer area is 390sqkm.


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