The Western Ghats in India, of which Kudremukh is a part, are a hotspot of biodiversity and an important habitat for the survival of wild tigers, but the Ghats are fragmented by many privately held areas of land deep in the interior. These cause immense impact on the wildlife and biodiversity through population growth, agricultural expansion, mining, forest fires, poaching, illegal removal of timber and other forest products, human-wildlife conflict, and restriction of animal movements. Unfortunately, the government procedures to buy back the land and merge it with the protected reserve are expensive and very slow.
WCS-India /Center for Wildlife Studies came up with an innovative idea of compensating landowners for surrendering their land through private funds. Substantial groundwork was carried out and the legal framework drawn up. A community project working with local people in the reserve successfully negotiated the relocation of villages to outside the reserve and utilised these skills to carry out this project’s aims. Interior enclosures deep in the forest were identified and targeted on priority for acquisition.
Although progress was slow because of some degree of official hostility to the conservation teams (on account of their advocacy activities in the area related to the closure of a large iron ore mine), success ensued. Six individual families of small land-holders (about 24 persons) were relocated and the lands occupied by these, including 8 acres of legally owned agricultural lands were taken back for restoration of natural habitat. In addition, substantial area of government owned forest land under the illegal occupation of these families for decades has now automatically reverted back to de facto public ownership in Kudremukh National Park, thus successfully completing the first phase of this project.