Belagavi: With the number of big cats increasing at the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary, local wildlife activists are now demanding the sanctuary be declared a tiger reserve.
Activists have petitioned the forest department and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to ensure that the sanctuary spread over 22,000 sq kms across Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa be declared a tiger reserve.
Giridhar Kulkarni, one of the activists leading the fight, said the move was a strategic one to ensure the conservation of the big cat in the region, which is part of Sahyadri bio-sphere reserve. Giridhar said the prey density was sufficient enough to support the big cat. "Moreover, this acts as a contiguous patch to the 22,000 sqkm tiger reserve of Mahadayi in Goa and Kali tiger reserve in Karnataka," he said.
The demand to declare Bhimgad a tiger reserve gained momentum last year. However, the proposal did not gain any traction with officials. But when camera traps installed by the forest department recently revealed that there were six tigers in the sanctuary, activists stepped up their demand.
The region is also an important since it is source of six rivers: Mahadayi, Malaprabha, Pandri, Markandeya, Tilhari and Bailnadi. "It also acts as a catchment area for them. These rivers are the lifeline of people in Goa and districts such as Belagavi, Dharwad, Bagalkot, Gadag in northern part of Karnataka," said Giridhar.
Bhimgad wildlife sanctuary has the most dense forest in the state.
Plagued by illegal mining and frequent wildlife crimes, the region caught attention of the nation when a group of scientists discovered a cave with Wroughton free-tailed bats, which were for a long time considered endemic to this region. But in 2008, a report revealed that these bat species were also sighted in parts of Western Ghats. Considering the sensitivity of the region, the forest department declared it as a wildlife sanctuary in 2008-09.