Kolkata: Amid concerns that tigers may have disappeared from West Bengal's Buxa Tiger Reserve, foresters have claimed that the habitat of the big cat has shrunk to a small area on the foothills.
"Tigers have not disappeared from Buxa. The habitat has moved to the foothills of Buxa which are close to Bhutan border. Tiger habitat is there on both sides of the border," a top forest department official told PTI.
He said human settlement along the forest and cattle- grazing have forced tigers to move away from their habitat, which once spread across Buxa forest in north Bengal.
The last census, based on scat analysis and pug mark identification, indicated that there are three tigers in BTR, which borders the forests of Bhutan and Assam's Manas Tiger Reserve.
As no photographic evidence was found despite the presence of camera traps, many wildlife experts have raised doubts about the presence of big cats in Buxa.
When asked why no tigers been caught on camera so far, another forest official said the jungle is very dense which makes the animal tough to spot.
State Wildlife Board member Biswajit Roychowdhury, who had participated in the last census, said they had found evidence of the presence of the big cats along Bhutan border but were not sure whether they were resident tigers.
"We found evidence but it is tough to say whether those tigers whose pug marks and scat we found in Buxa are residents or transitory ones coming from Bhutan," he said.
Tiger experts have expressed doubts about the presence of tigers in Buxa. Eminent tiger expert and conservationist Valmik Thapar had said Buxa has no tigers left now and it seems that this has been the case for many years, like Sariska and Panna.
He was also against relocating tigers in Buxa unless all cattle and livestock are removed from the area.
"All human disturbances must be stopped. The density of prey should be scientifically monitored for two years. If after five years situation improves, then review for relocating tigers there," the former National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) member had said.
Forest officials said steps are being taken by the department to improve the habitat, prey base and for ensuring surveillance and protection of the forest.
Former director of Project tiger, P K Sen had said "It cannot be done overnight. Buxa never had viable tiger population. Now they talk of the presence of three tigers in BTR but in the last 10 years sighting is zero".
On the possibility of relocating tigers in Buxa, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) and chief wildlife warden A Zaidi said the decision to translocate tigers would be taken by the NTCA.
"Its not yet finalised. The decision will be taken by NTCA," he said.
Foresters said unless the habitat is secured the move will prove to be futile.
"Tiger is the king of the jungle. If there is no kingdom how will the king live there. First his kingdom, that is the forest area has to be made secure," they said.