Veerappan land now a Tiger den

SATHYAMANGALAM: The land of the dreaded sandalwood smuggler Veerappan has now turned into a tiger den. Camera traps have revealed pictures of 19 tigers on the prowl in the Savannah-like forests of Sathyamangalam in Erode district in western Tamil Nadu. And DNA analysis of scats has confirmed the presence of at least 13 big cats.

The booming tiger population in Sathyamangalam, even while the big cats are on a decline in North India, has prompted Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh to ask Tamil Nadu government to send a proposal for declaring the Sathyamangalam forests a tiger reserve. As of now, only a small part of the Sathyamangalam forests has been declared a wildlife sanctuary. And the sprawling 1,450 sqkm area is the only non-tiger reserve forest in south India with a significant presence of big cats, say wildlife experts.

When a TOI team trekked through Sultan road in Thalamalai forest area, clear tiger pug marks and a fresh kill of a cow could be spotted. The locals in Asanur, Bavanisagar and Thalamalai say they spot at least one tiger a week. And for the Tamil Nadu forest department, a promising tale of tiger conservation is rolling out of Sathyamangalam.

"A healthy prey base, our strict vigil in forests, conservation efforts and reduction of cattle population in the forest fringes have yielded positive results in Sathyamangalam," chief wildlife warden R Sundararaju told TOI.

The big cats have been spotted sporadically across the five forest ranges of the Sathyamangalam forest division after the killing of Veerappan in November 2004. The wildlife census team found pug marks of eight to 10 tigers in Sathyamangalam last year. However, for the first time, a scientific study of the tiger presence was carried out by the Wildlife Fund for Nature and the Wildlife Trust of India according to the guidelines laid down by the environment and forest ministry.

The cameras, placed at 30 places across Moyar valley in the Sathyamangalam forest division at an interval of two sq km, have captured footages of 19 different tigers.

Besides, the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) collected 109 scat samples of which 60 turned out to be tiger stools. "The DNA analysis of the scat samples has shown that they belong to 13 different tigers," says WTI's field officer, Dr B Ramakrishnan. However, the forest officials now fear that the presence of the big cats may attract poachers to the forests.


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