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    Connectivity Is Key: Why a New Indian Tiger Reserve Is So Valuable

    Written by

    Derek Mead


    A male tiger reportedly in the Bandipur reserve, via vksrikanth on Flickr

    That adorable tiger cub we saw yesterday was a potential harbinger of good news: The tiger population in India's Bhanda Tiger Reserve is reportedly on the rise, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. Now here's some more great news: a new tiger reserve declared by the Indian government will help connect two previously isolated reserves into what should effectively be one large one.

    Via WWF

    The new reserve is part of Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and will connect the Bandipur and Biligiri Ranganswamy Temple reserves as diagrammed in the WWF-India map at right. The forests contained in the Sathyamangalam reserve are home to about 25 tigers, according to a WWF release. The new tiger reserve measures some 272 square miles, and will be protected in perpetuity.

    The decision from earlier this month makes four tiger reserves in Tamil Nadu, and 42 in India as a whole. And it's not just good news for tigers. Their home is also home to plenty of other important, threatened creatures, including mammal brethren like elephants, hyenas, and leopards.

    That, on its own, is great evidence of the conservation value of high-profile, keystone species like tigers. As we've seen in the tiger tourism industry, figuring out effective ways to protect a species with such huge land requirements as tigers pays immediate dividends to all of the species that share land with them.

    But beyond that, what's truly exciting about the new reserve is that is helps guarantee connectivity between the protected populations at Bandipur and Biligiri. Connectivity is key from an ecological standpoint because (generally, mind you) a single large area tends to be of higher quality and productivity than a group of disconnected areas of equal size.

    Partially that's due to edge effects; whether due to human interactions, local developments, or habitat degradation, the edges of a reserve tend to be of lower quality than the interior. And as compared to a single large region, a patchwork of areas have a lot more edge area. 

    There's also tigers' need for a lot of territory. They're massive, territorial predators (even at their smallest, female tiger ranges in Nepal are still around eight square miles). Now think of those territories like a puzzle; it's potentially possible to fit more of them into a single large region than a lot of small ones.

    Additionally, there's a isolation issue, as we've seen with pandas in China. If populations are effectively isolated into smaller groups, the individual groups are more at risk of local extinction or gene pool problems. This isn't just a tiger issue, either; the problems are an inherent part of all conservation management. And while all corridors and connectivity schemes aren't created equal, when they're designed properly, they work.

    In this case, we're talking about more than just corridors, and it's not totally clear how connected (or not) the populations in the three reserves were prior to the new protections. Still, we've got a region with a known tiger population that now has the same level of protection as the two reserves it connects to, which hopefully will end up making for a healthier long-term habitat for the rare, amazing cats.