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VALMIKI CONSERVATION PROJECT


A tiger camera trapped in Valmiki Tiger Reserve
A male tiger camera-trapped in Valmiki Tiger Reserve



 BACKGROUND

Valmiki Tiger Reserve spreads across 880 sq km in West Champaran district of the northern Indian state of Bihar, along the Indo-Nepal border. It is contiguous with Chitwan National Park and Parsa Wildlife Reserve in Nepal. Combined, the three protected areas form one of the 11 Level-1 Tiger Conservation Units (TCU) identified in the Indian sub-continent.

Despite being a part of a Level–1 TCU, Valmiki was largely neglected by authorities and heavily exploited by local people. This not only threatened the tigers in Valmiki, but also posed a grave threat to the tiger population of the entire landscape unit.

Lack of scientific data on habitat, population and distribution of the tiger and its prey, was one of the main hurdles to effective management of the reserve.

The situation was aggravated by the intense biotic pressure from about 140 villages located just within a few kilometres of the reserve boundary.  Disturbances from a cluster of 22 villages in the Done valley, a precarious incursion into the core of Valmiki, specifically, necessitated urgent remedial actions.

Valmiki Tiger Reserve
Done Valley (circled), a cluster of 22 villages situated in an incursion into the core area (shaded pink) of Valmiki Tiger Reserve

Additionally, Valmiki was also vulnerable to threats from poachers and illegal wildlife traders, who capitalised on the porous Indo-Nepal border and general low enforcement in the area.



ABOUT VALMIKI CONSERVATION PROJECT

Demonstration of husk stove operation
Villagers in the Done Valley gather to learn about husk stove operation. WTI with the support of USFWS has introduced husk stoves as a potential alternative to firewood for cooking, in the Done Valley.


In 2003, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in collaboration with Bihar Forest Department initiated the Valmiki Conservation Project with the support of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The project aimed to revive interest in conservation of Valmiki and to facilitate recovery of the area as a viable tiger habitat.

Although Valmiki was declared India’s 18th Tiger Reserve in 1994, no scientific data, required for wildlife management, was available. Hence a study was conducted by the project to generate the first ever baseline information on biotic disturbance, habitat, distribution, relative abundance of prey species and distribution of large predator species in general and tiger in particular, in Valmiki.

The study indicated that Valmiki had diverse prey species, but indiscriminate hunting for generations and deterioration in habitat had taken a toll on their populations. A tiger distribution map was also prepared on the basis of sightings, photo-captures and indirect signs recorded in different parts of the reserve.

Likewise, a socio-economic survey was conducted in a total of 107 villages situated within 4 km of the park boundary.  It revealed that about 74% of the villagers depend on forest for fuel wood, bamboo and small timber. While agriculture was the main source of livelihood, about 95% of the villagers reared cattle, with about 40% of them dependent on the forest for grazing and fodder. The survey also revealed lack of awareness regarding the conservation value of the reserve; about 90% considered forest as a source for firewood, fodder and housing material.

The outcome of the study stressed the need for urgent interventions to salvage Valmiki’s status as a tiger habitat. It was also observed that density estimation of tigers as well as their prey would be necessary for implementation of effective wildlife management measures. Regular monitoring would be needed to evaluate the progress of the interventions.

Currently Valmiki Conservation Project has three components:

The Tiger and Prey Monitoring  component is now undertaking tiger population density estimation through photographic capture-recapture sampling method, generating abundance indices of principal prey  based on dung/pellet count, and attempting calibration of pellet-based abundance indices  with  line transect based density estimates of prey species. Analysis of tiger scats is also being done to determine composition of prey species in tiger diet.

‘Community-based Conservation in Done Valley’ is the second component; it aims to bring about eco-development and conservation awareness in nearby villages to minimise human disturbances in Valmiki. For initiation, a total of eight villages (Naurangia, Gardi, Piparahawa Tola, Khairahni, Matiarawa Tola, Simrahani Tola, Kamarchinwa  and Majuraha) of the 22 in the Done valley were selected, based on their proximity to the core areas and their dependence on the forests. Surveys,  Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRAs) and Focussed Group Discussions were conducted to understand resource availability, socio-economic conditions, conservation aspirations and awareness of the residents, problems faced by them and their perceived solution to these problem etc. The central theme of this component is to encourage and facilitate community participation in the process of tiger conservation and habitat protection.

Firewood consumption data collectionParticipatory Rural Appraisal
Left: Survey being conducted to assess forest resource use by residents of Done Valley
Right: Residents prepare socio-economic map of Gardi village during a PRA

Efforts are now being made to reduce the dependence of the villagers on the forest. Various alternatives to firewood are being tested for efficacy and acceptance by villagers. Efforts are also being made to develop local income-generation activities to enhance the economy.
  
The third component ‘Anti-poaching and Trade Control’ aims at enhancing enforcement abilities of the Forest Department to minimise threats from poachers and wildlife traffickers. Frontline forest staff are provided with basic field equipment and are trained to tackle illegal activities within the protected area.

Training Valmiki Tiger Reserve staff Distributing field equipment to Valmiki Tiger Reserve staff
Training and equipping the frontline forest staff of Valmiki Tiger Reserve


WINS
  • Along with the Bihar Forest Department and with the financial support of USFWS, WTI set up a long term recovery plan for the tiger in this neglected and forgotten Tiger Reserve.

  • Demonstrated through science that tigers were still present in viable numbers.

  • Established through legal processes that the staff who protect species must also be looked after.

  • Included people in the conservation process through community work. This has shown that there is hope in recovering even a highly beleaguered tiger habitat with ground level work.

  • Won the confidence of villagers, who now participate in and think constructively for wildlife conservation in Valmiki.

  • Have helped build confidence and some modules to ensure their economic upliftment and reduce their dependence on forests. Villagers have started supplementing alternative fuel like paddy husk with firewood.

  • WTI has established husk stoves as a potential alternative to firewood. WTI tested the acceptance of husk-stoves by the people and, when proven successful, trained a villager for its local production for sustained availability of the device. Monitoring shows decline in firewood consumption in the beneficiary households. Active involvement of womenfolk in the firewood dependency reduction measures is also a good sign. (Read Story)

 

UPDATES

Leopard photo-captured in Valmiki Tiger Reserve Sloth bear photo-captured in Valmiki Tiger Reserve
Common leopard and sloth bear photo-captured in Valmiki Tiger Reserve
  • Recently, in April 2009, a male tiger was photographed in eastern side of the reserve. A tigress in western sector of the Reserve is being monitored using camera traps since the last four years, during which she has littered twice and successfully raised all the four cubs till dispersal. - In addition to  tiger, leopard, jungle cat, leopard cat, Indian hare, jackal, sloth bear, sambar, chital, nilgai and wild boar have also been photo-captured.
  • Residents of eight villages in Done valley undergo training in SRISTI, Patna
    Residents of eight villages from the Done valley undergo training at SRISTI, Patna
    In May 2009, WTI organised a livelihood training programme for 20 residents of the eight selected villages at the Society for Rural Industrialization and Social Transformation Initiatives (SRISTI) foundation, Patna. Components of the training included farming of medicinal plants, mushroom culture , vermicompost making, fishery, poultry and piggery among others. The participants were also trained in marketing aspects of business, arrangement of finance through bank and micro-finance institutions, etc, by experts associated with SRISTI. (Read Story)
  • Residents of Done valley being trained for the production and installation of Improved Cooking Stoves and other rural technologies
    Training Valmiki residents in production and installation of Improved Cooking Stoves and other rural energy technologies
    In June 2009, about 18 villagers including six women were trained for production and installation of Improved Cooking Stoves (ICS) and other rural energy technologies. The training was organised in partnership with the Forest Department and ARTI (Appropriate Rural Technology Institute) with the support of USFWS. It aimed not only at introducing energy efficient ICS and alternate fuel but also at generating local skilled manpower to implement energy technologies developed by ARTI. The training aimed to promote use of ‘Briquetted charcoal from sugarcane trash and other agrowastes’, ‘Sarai cooking system’ and Biogas technology, among others.
  • A community development fund has been established. A contribution of about 25% from the net profits that the villagers earn from businesses established with the help of WTI and USFWS will ensure sustainability of this fund.
  • WTI and USFWS are promoting plantations in community and private lands as a sustainable alternative to extraction of fuel wood and timber from the forest. Additionally, bio-gas, other alternative fuels and improved stove are being popularised.

 

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