Melghat Tiger Reserve spreads over 1597 sq.kms. of tropical dry deciduous forest with 648 species of flora, many species of mammals, 19 fishes, 15 snakes, 5 lizards, 250 birds and 4 turtle/tortoise species. The core area is 308 sq.kms.
The 1989 census reveals an estimated population of 77 tigers.
There are 59 villages in the area with 17,138 people and 21,677 cattle. 110 sq. kms. is under cultivation. The Korku tribals form a large percentage of the population. Their life is compatible with the forest and they indulge in small game poaching and fishing for their own consumption.
The final notification as a National Park is still pending.
The field director of the Park only controls 361 sq.kms. of the area and the remaining area has an overlapping jurisdiction with the territorial forest division of East, West and South Melghat. There is a large effort after 20 years of Project Tiger to bring the area under unitary control. The core is well protected without any villages. The grazing pressures are not high and only 40,000 on the fringe areas. Through the flow of funds and equipment, local poaching has been curbed, although there have been 2 cases of tiger poaching in 1990-1991. Till 1988 timber extraction to the tune of 30 crores annually was exploited. This is said to have stopped since 1989 and degraded areas have had a chance to recoup. Through ecological development pressures that mount from the buffer to the core will be reduced.
Tourist management, interpretation and other facilities are managed by Project Tiger and nature education of school children and tribals is underway. It appears that Melghat is an excellent flagship of Project Tiger for the management of tourism and education to the people. There is no tourism activity in the Core area.
The Park authorities feel that there is a deficit in the staff required to manage the reserve. Much more work has to be done to eliminate the hazard of fires. Water is a limiting factor and much has to be done to alleviate the situation. There is a veterinary cell but yet to be fully operational. Most of the research work has started in 1989 and there is some data being collected. The research laboratory is slowly developing and requires much more improvement.
On the side of documentation there has been some excellent work done. An annotated bibliography on tigers has been compiled which encompasses all tiger literature over the centuries. A compilation of the ethno-botanical species of flora,and their uses has also been completed.
There is a plan to relocate 6 villages in the fringe. The damage to crops in these areas by wild animals is alarming. The first case of man eating also occurred in 1992.
It appears from census figures that this Tiger Reserve has reached its optimum capacity to hold tigers. In fact prey species are said to be declining at a very rapid rate especially spotted deer and wild boar. Tigers prey on 250 cattle annually revealing their dependence on livestock that must roam this forest. An attempt is being made to restock the forest with prey though such a process could be questionable. The whole predator prey base requires detailed scientific research, in order to understand the problems. Unitary control by the field director of the core and buffer is essential. Through this process the habitat in the buffer can be developed and livestock predation reduced. Eco-development approaches for the future will be vital in creating a harmony between man and forest, in this tiger habitat.
Discussing the people and the park. Bittu Saigal, Member Steering Committee of Project Tiger states "Proiect Tiger Directors Particularly Mr. M.G. Gogate have been very aware of both the rights and sensibilities of the Korkus and other local people. Nevertheless they are hampered by the fact that there is simply no policy upon which they can fall back, it is only their individual relationships that allow them to sporadically execute `people- oriented' plans. Even these are by way of magnanimous dispensations, not by way of routine right. How can we ever expect people's participation this way".