Medininagar: The Betla National Park located in Jharkhand’s ‘Palamu Tiger Reserve’ was thrown open for tourists on Friday, a senior forest official said.
Also, the counting for wild animals has begun in the Palamu Tiger Reserve (PTR), known globally for undertaking the world’s first census for big cats as early as 1932.
Betla National Park was closed for tourists for the last one and a half years from March 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kumar Ashutosh, Area Director of PTR told PTI: “The Betla National Park has been opened for tourists from today. The counting of wild animals has also been started.”
The director of the reserve said that the counting of wildlife is done after every four years. The last time the counting was done was in 2018. This counting is slated to be completed in three months beginning October 2021.
For counting of wild animals 509 trap cameras have been installed in the Palamu Tiger Reserve, he said.
The official said that based on the counting a comparative figure will emerge about the number of wildlife in various sanctuaries in the country by middle of 2022.
From January to June, the presence of wildlife is tested with a scientific method, then the actual number comes out.
The official said that apart from trap cameras, 300 takers (trained men) have been trained to collect the excreta and urine of animals which will be tested at Wildlife Institute of India Dehradun.
The official said that the exercise of counting has started in all the 31 territorial forest divisions of the state as well as five wildlife reserve sanctuaries including two in Palamu and one each at Ranchi, Hazaribag and Dalma (Singbhum).
Of the 1129.93 sq km area of PTR, 414.08 sq km is marked as core area (critical tiger habitat) and the rest 715.85 sq km as a buffer area. Of the total area, 226.32 sq.km is designated as Betla national park. In the buffer zone, 53 sq km is marked as a tourist zone.
Palamau was declared a protected forest reserve in 1973-74 when Project Tiger was launched.
The reserve, according to information, recorded its highest tiger population in 1995 with 71 big cats but since then their population has been dwindling.
The Palamau Tiger Reserve consists mainly of Sal forests, mixed deciduous forests and bamboo groves. The reserve zone is the watershed area for three important rivers Koel, Burha and Auranga.
The Palamau Tiger Reserve was one of the first nine tiger reserves created in the country at inception of Project Tiger and has the distinction of being the first sanctuary in the world in which a tiger census was carried out based on pugmark count, as early as 1932 under the supervision of JW Nicholson, the then DFO, Palamau.
Apart from leopards, it boasts of elephants, grey wolf, gaur, sloth bear, four-horned antelope, Indian ratel, Indian otter and Indian pangolin among its inhabitants.
In total, 47 species of mammals and 174 species of birds have been identified, according to officials who said that apart from these, a total of 970 species of plants, 17 species of grass and 56 species of medicinal plants have also been identified.
Betla National Park under Latehar district of the state is located about 150 km from Ranchi and 25 km from Palamu headquarter Medininagar (Daltonganj).
The High Court of Jharkhand on Thursday came down heavily on the forest department for having failed to protect the flora and fauna in reserve forests of the state and a division bench of Chief Justice Dr Ravi Ranjan and Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad, while hearing a public interest litigation, observed that it is shameful to know that there are just five tigers in the wild in the state.
Commenting on the Palamu Tiger Reserve, the high court wondered why it should be called a tiger reserve since there are no tigers and observed that officers are not even aware of how many male and female big cats exist in Jharkhand.
The forest officers do not seem to be worried about the scanty animal presence in the jungles and have not done anything to enhance the population of the wild animals, the bench had said.