Kolkata, Nov 8: Protected areas (PA) are important for large animals, including top predators like tiger, and should not be degazetted, a new study has said. The study, based on transect surveys across four independent sites in the Kameng Protected Area Complex in Arunachal Pradesh, also advocates the significance of community-managed lands which can compliment protected area network.  To shed light on the biodiversity value that each PA and community managed land sustains, a team led by field biologist Nandini Velho carried out the surveys in the largest contiguous block of forests in the Eastern Himalaya Global Biodiversity Hotspot.

“Protected areas in general are important for large-bodied species but community-managed lands can play an important role, too, and perhaps compliment the protected area network,” Velho, the lead author, told IANS via email.  Velho works with the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS) and College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, in Australia. Arunachal Pradesh, in northeast India, harbours two global biodiversity hotspots, and has the second-highest level of biodiversity globally, after the northern Andes.

The scientists sampled community-managed lands belonging to four tribes — Nyishi, Aka, Begun and Shertukpen — from August 2011 to April 2014.  The work centred on lower and higher reaches of Pakke Tiger Reserve, Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary and the adjacent community-managed lands of these four tribes. “Barking deer, porcupines, small carnivores, and pheasants were frequently encountered on transects in community-managed lands. Elephant, sambar, gaur, and barking deer were frequently encountered in Protected Areas sites, except for Sessa Orchid Sanctuary,” the study notes.

While drawing comparisons between formally PAs versus adjacent community-managed lands with regards to nurturing biodiversity, the team discovered that on a site-specific basis “community managed lands can be as good as PAs” and hold “great biodiversity potential”.  “Their value should be recognised and they should not be converted to less biodiversity friendly land-use types such as promoting monocultures like rubber and oil palm plantations,” Velho suggested.  Published in the journal Land in October, the study is co-authored by Rachakonda Sreekar from the School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide, and the James Cook University’s F. Laurance.

 Though the decline in important mammal species, such as tiger, is impacted by socioeconomic changes and institutional inadequacies, “the landscape is dotted with hope”, Velho said.  Velho points to the degazettement and the challenges protected areas in India are currently facing: the Panna Tiger Reserve where the Ken-Betwa irrigiation project stands to submerge parts of this reserve.

“On the other hand, there is a need for the government to chart out a policy as a start, in at least acknowledging that areas outside PAs are important for biodiversity and changing land-use patterns for monocultures and industrial purposes should be subject to the same rigour and analysis as those of protected areas,” she added.