Tiger Conservation Program (TCP) is one of the most successfully implemented programs of Dolphin Foundation continuing since the year 2000. Operated in the state of Assam, which as Tiger bearing area, occupies a very significant position in the World map, sharing about 22% of India’s total tiger population. Assam at present have three tiger reserves besides other tiger bearing PAs. At present the Manas Tiger Reserve and Orang National Park in Assam, India, are the priority area for the Foundation’s tiger conservation activities. Manas Tiger Reserve is one of the most important tiger conservation priority areas in Asia and was among the first 9 Tiger Reserves of the country declared during 1972-73 by Govt. of India under the aegis of Project Tiger. At the time of launching of Project Tiger in Manas there were about 31 nos. of tigers (Panthera tigris tigris), which was increased to 123 during 1984. But after that due to some social unrest in the area the tiger population of the reserve was gradually declining and as per the 2001 census there are only 65 tigers presently living in Manas. The Manas National Park, a World Heritage Site, has got enormous value for the Nation and so it has been conferred with three different status – Tiger Reserve, National Park and Biosphere Reserve. The park has been adversely affected over the past decade due to severe ethno-political unrest in the region. The problem started since 1989 during a local tribal agitation. The agitation caused heavy breakdown of infrastructure, looting of arms and ammunition, killing of forest staff etc. Till date the Reserve has suffered more loss in terms of man and materials than any other Tiger Reserve in the Country. The entire management system was broken down eventually resulted to loss of park resources, specially the timbers which have converted the park inhabitable for the tiger and other endangered species. In the chaos resulting from ethno-political unrest in and around Manas, the tiger population has been affected very badly and poachers wiped out 90% of the reserve’s rhino population. During last decade there has been practically nothing, which can be termed as conservation measures for the protection of the park. The park management attained a negative status of peripheral co-operation and it lost some of the main attributes of a World Heritage Site. But fortunately after one decade of all round efforts from all the corners of the society the ethnic unrest was finally subsided during the year 2000. Thus, the management that is both cautious and entirely innovative, was required to win back the support and cooperation of fringe villagers’ / local stakeholders. A necessary first step is to re-motivate fringe villagers on the need to protect Manas NP and its endangered wildlife specially tiger. To enable effective long-term tiger conservation strategies in Manas NP, it is very essential to have the necessary support of the fringe villagers. As the fringe village people are poor and unaware, this can be achieved by initiating Environmental Orientation and Small-Scale Community Support Programs. Once the support of the fringe villagers is obtained, more direct conservation projects for the tiger in Manas could be taken up subsequently.
Complementing the situation Dolphin Foundation started the present Tiger Conservation Program in Manas nine years back from now. To take up any conservation measures the necessary baseline information were not available for the park during that time. So, the Tiger Conservation program initiated by Dolphin Foundation was started with gathering the baseline data, mainly on community interphase, habitat status and on other anthropogenic activities. Gradually, based on the study various activities have been carried out right from community development up to the infrastructure support to the park. The major assistance for the program has come from Govt. US.(US-FWS) and three phases of the program have already been successfully executed. The major idea of the program undertaken by Dolphin Foundation has been to win back the lost support of the people living the peripheral areas of the Manas Tiger Reserve, which is extremely necessary for effective and long term conservation of the tiger population and their habitat.
The socio-economic survey carried out by Dolphin Foundation in the fringe villages clearly showed that illiteracy, unemployment and poor socio-economic condition of the surrounding people were the main causes of the destabilization of the park in addition to the affects of the long lasting ethnic unrest. So, it is obvious that the park need regular inputs in these regards until it attains a comfortable stage.
Tiger Conservation activities completed / being carried out by Dolphin Foundation :
- Study of the general status of Manas Tiger Reserve after ethnic unrest subsided.
- Socio-economic survey in all the fringe villages under Manas National Park.
- Study and profiling of the community intephase in Manas Tiger Reserve.
- Profiling the forest dependent livelihoods of fringe villagers on Manas.
- Profiling on the pressure of biomass extraction from Manas.
- Study and profiling the level of Wildlife Awareness among the fringe villagers.
- Attitudinal Survey among the fringe villagers about Manas and its Tiger population.
- Study and profiling of illegal tree felling and poaching activities in Manas Tiger Reserve.
- Study and profiling of the networks of illegal trafficking of wildlife and their markets in the local areas of Manas.
- Study and profiling of human –wildlife conflict (HWC) in the fringe villages of Manas.
- Conservation awareness & education campaign as routine activities in the fringe areas of Manas.
- Development of Awareness Materials on Manas and its tiger population for school children and for the general public.
- Environment Education Camps in the fringe village schools of Manas.
- Capacity Building program for the fringe villagers in Manas –
- Training Program for fringe village youths on various conservation measures.
- Teacher Training Workshop for primary school teachers.
- Training on advance handloom operation for fringe village women.
- Wildlife Awareness Status(WAS) survey among the fringe village school children under Manas National Park.
- Promotion of sustainable livelihoods for the forest dependent people in the fringe villages of Manas. (Handloom development, promotion of community forests, promotion of indigenous Sericulture etc.)
- Educational Infrastructure development program in the fringe village schools under Manas.
- Infrastructure development support to the authority of Manas.
- Tiger Reconnaissance Survey in the adjoining human use areas of Manas Tiger Reserve.
- Awareness drive to control the speed of the highway traffic passing through the Kaziranga National Park to address the problem of accidental death of tiger and prey population while they try to cross the highway during flood season for accessing highland areas.