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Comparative evaluation of management regimes for biodiversity conservation in India: A case study from Nagarahole, Karnataka

Comparative evaluation of management regimes for biodiversity conservation in India: A case study from Nagarahole, Karnataka
G. Viswanatha Reddy


Centre for Wildlife Studies, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (formerly Manipal University), Manipal 576104, Karnataka, INDIA.


The tiger (Panthera tigris) has been used as an effective umbrella species to preserve a wide range of biodiversity in India, because of its position at the top of the food chain (Schaller 1967, Karanth 2001). Since 1973 Government of India has established several “Tiger Reserves” protecting tigers, prey, co- predators and habitats (NTCA 2010). These tiger reserves together cover over 40,000 km2 forests that represent a diversity of bio-geographical regions of India (Rodgers and Panwar 1988). These tiger reserves constitute only about 1% of land area 3.28 million km2. However it is estimated that current potential tiger habitat in India covers 225,000 km2 (Dinerstein et al. 2006, Walston et al. 2010).

The basic model of conservation implemented in these reserves is "preservationist" in nature (Karanth et al. 1999, Madhusudan and Karanth 2000) that involves enforcing anti-hunting laws and preventing the adverse impacts of fires, livestock grazing, forest product removal, logging and reducing habitat fragmentation through removal of human encroachments. Although tigers, their prey and their habitats have recovered as a result of various management measures (Karanth 2002, Madhusudan and Mishra 2003), these impacts and recovery processes has not been quantitatively well documented.

Different conservation strategies have been proposed for arresting loss of biodiversity in tropical countries based on land ownership patterns. State or governmental ownership (mostly in Asia), community-ownership of land by large private or corporate holdings (mostly in Africa, Latin America) are typical management models in vogue today (Brandon et al 1998, Terborgh et al 2002).

Within India, wildlife/biodiversity conservation is implemented under the legal frame work of the Indian Forest Act and the Wildlife Protection Act through a “species- and protected area-centered” approach. Several species or habitat centered schemes and plans such as National Wildlife Action Plan, National Biodiversity Action Plan, Project Tiger, and Project Elephant etc. have been implemented under this approach (GOI 2009). The Union Government provides the policy framework and meets substantial proportion of the funding needs, while partial funding support, actual management and implementation are the responsibilities of the State Governments.

Given the above context, my study aims to examine human impacts on different forms of biodiversity under different levels of access, strictness of protection and resource extraction regimes that prevailed in a specific conservation landscape. With this background in view, I note that two broad alternative wildlife conservation models have been advocated for India: (1) a model based on “preservation” at its core (Karanth 1998, Madhusudan and Karanth 2000), and, (2) a model based on “sustainable resource use by local people” (Gadgil and Guha 1992, Kothari et al. 1996). However, a practical problem in evaluating such broad generic models of wildlife conservation is that these are not locally context specific, and thus not sufficiently evidence- based. The effectiveness of these two alternative, contrasting conservation approaches can be compared, only by rigorously and quantitatively measuring and comparing status of biodiversity and wildlife among otherwise ecologically similar sites, but with different degrees of human access, uses and impacts. My study aims to bridge this gap through a rigorous, quantitative evaluation of biodiversity conservation under different management regimes in the tropical forests of Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India.