The whopping decrease in tiger numbers in the Western Ghats shows the rampant destruction of this World Biodiversity Hotspot.
With successive governments clearing linear and infrastructure projects year after year, the Western Ghats with its unique primary forests and biodiversity has lost 157 tigers the last four years.
The tiger numbers, which are a useful indicator of the health of our forests, in fact, reveals in this case – how Western Ghats with its chain of mountains and unique flora and fauna has been abused in the last few decades.
From 981 tigers in the Western Ghats region, today the numbers have decreased to 824, thereby, losing 157 tigers in such a short span of time.
None of the elected representatives from the districts abounding Western Ghats either give a hoot on the uncontrolled diversion of forests or the disappearance of species after species which are endemic, rare and native.
As per All India Tiger Estimation, 2022 report, the Western Ghat landscape faces several conservation issues due to human activities that includes:
- habitat loss and fragmentation,
- poaching, illegal wildlife trade,
- human-wildlife conflict, and
- invasive species.
Despite its UNESCO World Heritage Site status, the Western Ghats face huge environmental challenges:
- habitat loss, and
- climate change
This threatens the very survival of many species and thus, the overall ecological balance of the region.
The tiger report cites a significant reduction of tiger occupancy throughout the landscape:
The Nilgiri cluster (from Nagarhole to BRT Hills) in the Western Ghats landscape has perhaps, the largest tiger population in the world & contributed significantly to colonization of tigers in neighboring areas.
However, the report states, “The recent most data depict a declining trend in the tiger occupancy in the entire Western Ghats (barring a few areas like Anshi-Dandeli). While the tiger population inside the PAs has increased (Bandipur, Nagarhole), the tiger occupancy outside the PAs has declined. Significant declines were observed in BRT Hills. Although the tiger occupancy has increased in the Anshi-Dandeli landscape (eastern part), it has declined in the border areas of Goa and Karnataka (Mollem-Mhadei-Anshi Dandeli complex).”
ROAD WORK IN CORE AREA OF KALI TIGER RESERVE
TIGER DECLINES IN MALNAD LANDSCAPE
Further, a major decline in tiger occupancy has been observed in the Mookambika-Sharavathi-Sirsi landscape, however, status quo is maintained in Bhadra landscape.
Local extinction of tiger populations has been observed in Sirsi.
The connectivity of PAs along the Western Ghats is some of the best in the country. However, with increasing human footprint and development, there is an increase in the interface between humans and wildlife.
While wildlife in human dominated landscape is a cultural part of the Western Ghats, there is increasing tension between humans and mega-herbivores & carnivores.
The report concludes, “There is an utmost need to address this issue if Western Ghats are to retain the tag of one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.”
The other major concerns in Western Ghats are the spread of invasives in large tracts of PAs. It is necessary to contain this spread, to ensure the survival of native flora and subsequently reduce the impact it has on flora, fauna, soil, and habitat.”
As per scientific studies, Western Ghats has been identified as a key area for the very survival of wild tigers in India.
However, going against these research findings, policy makers and ruling governments have been clearing road (state and national highways), power transmission, and rail projects so frequently that Western Ghats has become fragmented and is losing continuity of its tiger and elephant corridors.
The loss of continuity in the wildlife corridors of the Western Ghats has led to severe loss in the number of tigers, stress wildlife experts.
Linear structures criss-cross its rich habitat so uncontrollably that water sources (Western Ghats is the birthplace of major rivers in India), its unique wildlife and primary forests has been impacted severely.
In Karnataka, every year, roads are being widened, expanded, and added in the Western Ghats so pervasively that landslides, soil erosion, disappearance of forest streams, tributaries and flooding has become very common. Some roads have been widened from six metres to 22 metres in these fragile and fragmented hill ranges.
The decrease in tiger numbers clearly demonstrate that forests across Western Ghats are not in good condition at all.
Further, adding more to this destruction, the state government has in its kitty many money-spinning, developmental projects that will be implemented in Western Ghat bound districts of Karnataka.
This will not only drastically reduce the extent and quality of these primary forests in the state but also result in severe ecological problems, severe water scarcity and take away the livelihood of people especially farmers.
The most ambitious project of successive governments in Karnataka has been the Hubli-Ankola Rail Project which will not only destroy this fragile ecological habitat with its unique water generating sources but also destroy these chain of mountain ranges that are home to rare flora and fauna.
However, despite being rejected (12 times) by many scientific institutions, wildlife departments and the CEC of the Supreme Court, the state government has been bulldozing and is hell bent on implementing this project across Western Ghats for short term gains.