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 the 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.