Initiated in the year 2005 the Tiger Research and Conservation Initiative (TRCI) is one of the flagship Initiatives of Aaranyak actively engaged in applied research and conservation of tiger, prey animals and their habitat.
Activities of this initiative is tuned to complement effective tiger conservation efforts in the region through government and other non-government agencies. Major objectives are a) ecological research on tigers and prey animals, b) creating a GIS-based database on tiger and its ecosystem, c) capacity building of local biologists, conservationists and forest staff, d) promoting community-led tiger and habitat conservation through awareness and capacity building.
What’s being done under TRCI?
A. Tiger and Prey Monitoring
1. Manas National Park: The Manas National Park at the Indo-Bhutan Manas Transboundary Conservation Area (TraMCA) is a very rich ecosystem and tiger habitat in the Northeast India. Aaranyak, Forest Department and partner organizations have drawn up a long term plan for monitoring tigers, prey animals and their habitat in the park along with a conservation action plan starting in 2010. The regular annual monitoring of tigers and prey animals in the park is being carried out in collaboration with the park authority and in partnership with WWF India and ATREE. The Wildlife Institute of India is technically supporting the research. As part of this joint initiative, the following activities were carried out in:
• In 2011-12, 480 sq km area was covered using camera traps. Identified 18 adult individual tigers-6 males and 9 females, 3 unknown sexes. 4 cubs were also photo-captured.
• In 2012-13, around 300 sq km area was covered. Identified nine (13) individual tigers in the camera trapped area.
• The team is also monitoring prey animals in the park.
• For the first in its history, Aaranyak , WWF India, ATREE and partners across the border, the Royal Manas National Park management conducted joint transboundary tiger monitoring in the landscape in 2011. A report "Tigers Across Borders-Tigers in the Indo-Bhutan Transboundary Manas Conservation Complex (TMCC )” was published to share the results.
• The second transboundary tiger monitoring was completed in 2014 with 24 individual tigers in the landscape (with still area to cover). This year the field exercse was carried out by staffs from Royal Manas and Manas NP, teams from Aaranyak, ATREE and Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.
• In partnership with Panthera carried out a threat assessment of the Manas Tiger reserve in 2012-13.
2. Namdapha Tiger Reserve: The Namdapha Tiger Reserve (NTR) in Arunanchal Pradesh bordering Myanmar has been identified as a high-priority landscape for tiger conservation globally. A joint initiative of Aaranyak and Panthera assisted the Arunachal Forest Department in conducting a systematic camera-trapping survey in NTR during February to March, 2012. The study focused on an area of 300 sq km on the west and south west part of the reserve and photo-captured tiger, leopard, wild elephants and others. The key findings of the study are:
• 43 species of animals comprising 37 species of mammals were photo-captured that included six species of cats (Tiger, Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Marbled cat, Golden cat and Leopard cat).
• Tiger and elephant were photo-captured for the first time in the park.
• Subsequently, Aaranyak assisted the park authority in preparing a security action plan for the park to ensure protection and acquire resources from the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
• The two-month-long activity also led to a major anti-poaching exercise in the park first time in its history as staff and volunteers. Teams were also able to detect and neutralize several threats to tigers and prey animals.
3. Kaziranga National Park: The Kaziranga National Park in Assam is an epitome of conservation and management in the whole of Asia. Other than rhino, it is one of the few richest tiger habitats in the world and the single most important source population of tigers for the entire northeast India. Aaranyak has been involved in long-term monitoring of tigers, prey animals and their habitat in Park since 2009. The monitoring of tigers and prey animals is being carried out in collaboration with the park authority, WWF India and ATREE. Some significant output of this monitoring are-
• 200-10: Established that this park has the highest density of tigers in the world.
• 2011-12: Identified minimum of 98 individual tigers comprising 32 males, 58 females and 4 unknown sex and 4 cubs in an area of 394 sq km covered by camera traps.
• 2012-13: Identified minimum of 108 individual tigers comprising 37 males, 58 females and 1 unknown sex and 12 cubs in an area of 394 sq km covered by camera traps. Indian Bison was captured for the first time in the history of the park.
• Research findings helped in All India Tiger Monitoring carried out by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
• The team also monitored prey animals of tigers in the park and monitored key corridors between Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong.
• The team also carried out a study to evaluate the connectivity between Kazirnaga Karbi Anglong Landscape (KKL) and Kaziranga Orang Riverine Landscape (KORL).
• Pioneered to monitor tigers and prey animals in the river islands in the Brahmaputra River in 2008 and mapped tiger inhabiting islands in the KORL.
• Conducted occupancy survey of tigers, co-predators and other key mammals in the Karbi Anglong Hills in 2012-13.
4. Orang National Park: Aaranyak has been continuing long-term monitoring of tiger, prey animals and their ecosystems in Orang National Park since 2007-08. The long term comprehensive study has thrown light on vital population information which is helping in formulating of proper management practice for tigers and prey animals in ONP. The salient findings from Orang are-
• First ever conducted camera trapping exercise in Orang NP and identified 7 individual tigers in a monsoon disrupted partial camera trapping.
• In 2009 we identified 13 individual tigers in the park.
• During 2011-12 session 22 individual tigers were photographed which included 03 male, 13 female and 6 cubs making it an area with highest density of wild tigers in the world.
• During 2012-13 session 24 individual tigers were identified which included 3 males, 17 females and 4 cubes.
• In 2014, we identified 17 individual tigers in the park.
B. Other Salient Activities:
5. Occupancy study of tigers, co-predators and other mammals in Karbi Anglong Hills: Aaranyak in partnership with Panthera and in collaboration with WWF India, initiated the first ever predator and prey study in the Karbi Anglong Hills during 2012. The study included survey in 7000 sq km of forest areas inhabited by Karbi, Dimas and Naga tribes. Community volunteers were trained for the systematic scientific survey in the far flung areas on the hills using appropriate techniques and equipments. Knowledgeable local community elders were interviewed to generate the information about 12 species including tigers. The study indicated that 63% of the Eastern Karbi Hills area is occupied by tigers (based on indirect evidences).
6. Manas Landscape Threat Assessment: Assessment of local and landscape-level threats to the tiger population of the Manas landscape, Assam, India: The overall goal of this project was to secure and strengthen critical source population tigers, prey animals, their habitats and habitat connectivity to ensure future of wild tigers in the Northeast India. This project addressed Assessment of local and landscape-level threats to the tiger population of the Manas landscape. Entire 2837 km2 Manas Tiger Reserve (MTR) was covered.
The study revealed that 40% of the designated area (2837 sq km) of the MTR has been permanently lost due to encroachments. The remaining 60% habitat in the reserve was systematically assessed for presence and severity for direct and indirect threats to tigers and prey animals. Poaching, illegal logging, fishing, mining, livestock grazing, illegal encroachment, NTFP collection and infrastructure development, ineffective park administration, insurgency and invasive species were the threats listed for this study. The final maps suggested that the threats to tigers in the MTR are both severe as well as widespread, especially in areas outside the Manas National Park (500 km2), the core area of the tiger reserve.
7. Conservation Education Activities: TRCI also launched extensive conservation education campaign in collaboration with RRCI around Kaziranga and Orang National Park, Assam. During the last two years the following activities were executed. A detailed report on these are available in the EECBP section of this report.
• Regularly organize pre-flood awareness campaign around Kaziranga and Orang National Park to ensure that stray and marooned animals during flood are not killed or disturbed by people. We also organized over 15 such events in the fringe areas including the north bank area of the park.
• Twenty such events were organized around Orang National Park to increase awareness of the villagers and students in 2012 and 2013.
• TRCI team lead in organizing of the 1st Kaziranga Green marathon on 5th June 2012. This was unique and for the first time event in the region where sports like marathon was used as media for environmental education.
Head of the TRCI delivers several popular and scientific talks in local, national and international meetings and events annually.
2. Communities, Wild Tiger and Their Habitats:
A. Planning for long term conservation of tiger in Assam:
Field Training for Biologists of NE India Map of Kaziranga NP
The overall goal of this project is to plan long- term protection and survival of wild tigers and their habitat in northeast India, through gathering necessary information, assessment of the best strategies, and identification of the resources necessary to implement a comprehensive conservation and education programme designed to promote participation of local villagers, community organizations, NGOs and government officials.
During the first phase of this project Aaranyak and the Assam Forest Department are consulting the local communities, experts, biologists and conservationists to enhance their participation in conservation of tiger, prey animals and habitats and plan strategies to achieve the priority goals set by the stakeholders. This exercise is, however, limited to four tiger conservation areas in Assam, viz. Kaziranga, Manas, Nameri and Orang. It is expected that this exercise will help in creating a roadmap for protection, conservation and research of tiger and will ensure their long-term survival in the region. The USFWS has provided financial support to this project while several local organizations have collaborated in the process.
B. Community-based Tiger Conservation Action Research in Nameri National Park:
Capacity Building(Livelihood Training at a forest village) in NTR Map of Nameri Tiger Reserve and National Park
The Nameri Tiger Reserve is another prime tiger habitat, where Aaranyak and Assam Forest Department has initiated efforts to involve the communities in long-term conservation of tigers, prey animals and the habitats. Under this initiative efforts are on to (1) enhance capacity of the forest and fringe villagers and local organizations through environmental education, skill development training and livelihood interventions to empower them to participate in and benefit from conservation efforts in the NTR and (2) carry out research on present ecological status of the tiger habitats as well as assess the population and distribution patterns of tigers and their prey base. The USFWS and the Rufford Small Grants, UK has provided financial support to this project. A number of grassroot organizations, educational institutions and Government Departments are working as partners in this project.
What’s future plan of TRCP?
The TRCI plans to achieve the following target during the next five years (2010-2015)-
• Strengthen protection and Monitoring tigers and Prey animals in the Transboundary Manas Conservation Area (TraMCA) as mandated by partners across borders.
• Develop TIGER (Tiger Informatics through Geospatial and Ecological Research) database and promote its use among the stakeholders.
• Cover 2000 km2 of tiger habitat under its research and monitoring projects covering Kaziranga, Manas, Nameri and Orang on a priority.
• Identify individual tigers, estimate predator and prey density to complement efforts of the Protected Area management authorities.
• Train local biologists and forest staff to strengthen and sustain long-term tiger research and conservation initiatives.
• Enhance community support and participation towards tiger conservation through conservation education and community development initiatives.
• Assist concerned authorities to identify and dismantle poachers and poaching networks.
• Establish and sustain a cohesive collaboration with international, national and regional/local organizations and government departments to strengthen tiger conservation initiatives.
• Generate required funds to sustain this ambitious but important programme for long-term conservation of tigers in the region.
Support and Collaboration:
US Fish and Wildlife Service
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, UK
Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation, UK
SWBG Conservation Fund, USA
WWF India, ATREE, Wildlife Institute of India, Bodoland Territorial Council, Assam Forest and Environment Department, Royal Manas National Park, National Tiger Conservation Authority, UFCN.