Similipal Tiger Reserve is a large insurgent-affected protected area (PA) located in the northern Eastern Ghats, India, with a resident tribal population of about 12,500. In 2007-08, we carried out a survey of conservation attitudes among 217 men and women (>20 years old) and documented their perceptions of wildlife and forest decline over a 20-year period from 1997-2007. Using data from the Forest Survey of India, we ascertained the decrease in forest cover (>40%), and using available census information we assessed tiger status over this period. Most of the respondents were primarily agriculturists (79%), and all households collected fuel-wood from the forest; 13% hunted and 49% fished. The majority of the respondents (80%) agreed that trees had disappeared, and 90% agreed that the tiger and elephant had disappeared. Respondents’ recollections of Bengal tiger and Asian elephant sightings over a 20-year period indicated a drastic decline in their numbers, and perceptions of forest loss were supported by assessments of changes in dense forest cover indicating an annual deforestation rate of 1.577% yr-1 over a 20-year period, or loss of 274 km2 of dense forest. This suggests that forest dwelling communities have an acute awareness of disappearing forests and wildlife, and informant-based surveys can be indicative of the status of wildlife and forests in situations such as Similipal, where ecological studies are problematic due to civil conflict.
Sasmita Sahoo, Jean-Philippe Puyravaud and Priya Davidar 2013. Local knowledge suggests significant wildlife decline and forest loss in insurgent affected Similipal Tiger Reserve, India Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 6 (21):230 – 240