By Yougan Tamang

Spotting tigers in Sikkim is now not only a part of old narratives but is a physical reality. Recently during November – December 2018 a royal Bengal tiger roaming in the Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary, east Sikkim was captured on camera by Forest Department of Sikkim.

The Royal Bengal tiger was camera trapped on November 11, 2018 at Regu Daap, at Goru Jurey on 06 December and 28 December during the the same year (2018). The images and news of the tiger camera trapped not only made headlines in local dailies and ticker story in digital platforms but a biggest claim of the department to let world know that Sikkim has a ‘healthy forest ecosystem’.

Courtesy: Forest Department

To add more glory to the claim, another Royal Bengal tiger was captured in camera on the night of 05 February, 2019 at an altitude of 11,715 ft.
The image taken at Ek Ghothey at an altitude of 11,715 ft at Kyongnosla Alpine Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area in east Sikkim, is the highest elevation record of a tiger in the state, as shared by the Forest authorities.

The tiger was camera trapped by Neemesh Chamling, survey expert of biodiversity conservation, Jeewan Kumar Rai, Kalu Singh Rai, Passang Sherpa and all staffs of the sanctuary which has Navin Gurung as its Range Officer and Bivek Chettri as Block Officer. The camera traps have been installed in seven protected areas of Sikkim as part of the JICA-assisted Sikkim Biodiversity and Forest Management Project under Forest department since 2016-17.

As per the latest India State of Forest Report 2017, the total forest and tree cover of the State is 3379 sq. km (47.62% of the total geographical area of the state) which is a good record. The state has also reported a recorded forest area of 5,841 sq km which is of 82.31% of the Geographical area of the State. The Reserved and Protected Forests are 93.34% and 6.66% respectively, of the recorded forest area. The forest of Sikkim is a home to a variety of natural flora and fauna of which some are endangered ones.

“Spotting a tiger in Sikkim is an indication of a healthy eco-system flourishing in our state and it calls for a celebration,” said Dechen Lachungpa, the divisional forest officer of East wildlife division.

The claim by Ms Lachungpa may not be debated because as per World Wildlife Fund, it is estimated that India probably had many thousands of tigers in the wild. As per the ‘Status of Tigers in India. 2014’ report the estimated population of tiger is 2,226 (in the range of 1,945 to 2,491), as against which reveals that the wild tiger population in India has increased by 30 percent in the past four years (in downtoearth.org.in). Tiger (Panthera tigris) comes under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 thus protected.

The spotting of tiger in Sikkim in past few months definitely gives a hint of state now developing a healthy forest ecosystem. The presence of big cat will play a pivotal role in the health and diversity of an ecosystem.

Since, it is a top predator at the apex of the food chain, it keeps the population of wild ungulates in check and maintains the balance between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. The presence of tigers in the forest is an indicator of the well being of the ecosystem. The extinction of this top predator is an indication that its ecosystem is not sufficiently protected, and neither would it exist for long thereafter. An extinction of tiger will make the entire ecosystem collapse.

In the same area of Sikkim where tiger was camera trapped other fauna like red panda, musk deer, red fox, wild yak, blood pheasant and Himalayan monal were also captured which means there is a good prey base in the habitat confirming the healthy forest.

“The installation of camera trap technology as part of the population estimation study under the JICA-assisted SBFP in Sikkim has provided a great medium in understanding the wildlife presence in Sikkim forest. The camera capture of tigers has today helped us gain insight in the tiger movement in Sikkim forest. The state policies for conservation and protection has maintained a good record of forest cover in the state which is providing protection to tigers “,said Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF, Wildlife) Bhuwan Pradhan.

It was on 27 January, 2016, WWF India had revealed that the endangered ‘snowing’ leopard was camera trapped at four different places of North Sikkim. The snow leopard occupies the higher altitudes of the Himalayas and spotting the animal is extremely rare. Camera traps installed under the pilot project Conservation and Adaltation in Asia’s High Mountains in 2015 helped in thrilling capture of the snowing leopard.

WWF India also revealed that the camera traps which were installed to study the presence of the endangered species in the region also caught some other unsuspecting fury friends off-guard, like the rare pallas cat, blue sheep and the Tibetan argali.

The spotting of tigers and snowing leopards at various places of east and north Sikkim is a good sign of a healthy forest ecosystem of Sikkim. It definetely gives a good message to the world that the tiny Himalayan state has paved ahead in protecting the forest which ultimately conserves and protects the various endangered species of flora and fauna. Spotting of tigers claimed due to healthy ecosystem may also be one of the reasons to have tiger reserve in future which Government of India has to look into.

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