Bengaluru: Ever since then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi launched Project Tiger on April 1, 1973, at Bandipur to protect the big cats and promote their conservation in India, the tiger population and conservation efforts have ben steadily improving.
Fifty years later, all eyes are on Bandipur Project Tiger Reserve again, not only because Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming there to inaugurate the celebrations to mark 50 years of Project Tiger, but because the reserve is recognized as the prime tiger habitat in the world today.
According to official statistics, the number of tigers when Project Tiger began in 1973 was 12. Due to rampant poaching and no protection, the big cat was pushed to the brink of extinction. As per the statistics by the National Tiger Conservation Authority the number of tigers has now been recorded at 126. The Authority has mentioned the number under the title "Status of Tigers Co-predators and Prey in India for 2018". However, the number of tigers in the park is pegged at 173 today.
Modi will release the latest statistics of tiger estimation (2022) at the "Commemorating 50 years of Project Tiger" programme, which will be held in Mysuru on April 9.
The Bandipur National Park was formed by including most of the forest area of the then Venugopala Wildlife Park established by the government of India on February 19, 1941. The area was enlarged in 1985 extending over 874.20 square kms and was named the Bandipur National Park.
This reserve was brought under Project Tiger in 1973. Subsequently, some adjacent reserve forest areas were added to the reserve extending it to 880.02 square kms. The present area under the Bandipur Tiger Reserve is 912.04 square kms.
In 2007-08, an area of 39.80 square kms attached to the Karnataka Forest Development Corporation plantation area was handed over to this division. During 2010-11 the Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary was also handed over to the wildlife division.
In old Mysore State, a forest department was established on January 11, 1864 and an army officer Major Hunter was appointed Conservator of Forests. The state's rulers realizing the significance of the preservation of wildlife, passed the Mysore Game and Fish Preservation Act in 1901.
The Mysore Gazetteer recorded that tiger blocks were identified and restrictions were imposed on shooting them. The Bandipur Tiger Reserve along with the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in Tamil Nadu including the Wayanad forest region in Kerala is home to the highest number of tigers in the country (724) and the largest Asian Elephant population.
The Bandipur Tiger Reserve has become a popular destination for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers from across the world because of its rich biodiversity. Anti-poaching patrols, habitat management and community based conservation programmes have yielded good results. The authorities are dealing with the challenge of encroachment in buffer zones by the local communities. The development has resulted in man-animal conflict.
Environmentalist Dr A.N. Yallappa Reddy, talking to IANS, stated that Karnataka even today remains the leading state in preservation measures. The tiger population here is the highest in the country. The politicians and earlier the maharajas here paid attention to conservation, he added.
Karnataka was the first state to implement Project Tiger. Because of the Mysuru rulers, the state was the first in the country to declare Bandipur Sanctuary to protect tigers and elephants, he said.
Late former Chief Minister D. Devaraj Urs was also concerned about wildlife, nature, forests and tree protection. He implemented the guidelines of Project Tiger and abolished the "Pre-Paid license" scheme which allowed people to go into the forests by paying Rs 2 or Rs 3 for a pass. Hundreds of bullock carts entered the forests and people stayed there for one or two days, he explained.
Yallappa Reddy said that when he was deputy conservator of forests in Hunsur, he took Devaraj Urs to see the plunder of the forests. "He banned the practice. Simultaneously Project Tiger was implemented," he stated.