Protection efforts made over the year by many people have helped preserve the marvel that is Kanha. Conservation measures under Project Tiger have been remarkably fruitful. Fire protection, anti-poaching measures, habitat improvement, initiatives in barasingha conservation, preventing cattle grazing and relocation of villages outside the park are among the many steps that make the Kanha habitats what they are today.
Over the years, the management has strived successfully to ensure that important habitat types are managed scientifically to suit the requirements of wildlife species populations.
The famous Kanha grasslands are methodically maintained by eradicating the weeds such as Lantana (Lantana camera) and Chakoda (Cassia tora) to lessen the competition with palatable grass species fed upon by herbivores. Woody species such as Palas (Butea monospera), Lendia (Lagerstroemia parviflora) and Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon) are uprooted to prevent disappearance of grasslands. Local grass slips are also planted and seed sown to restock degraded grasslands. Under the habitat improvement strategy, the famous meadows of the park have been managed successfully to hold the ever increasing herbivore populations.
Besides, the management also has to ensure an equitable distribution of water throughout the area for ungulates. And for this, a whole network of small and large water bodies is maintained by deepening, desilting and reshaping them regularly.
The elephants of Kanha are well cared for by their Mahouts and assistants. Technical support and health checks are managed and carried out at regular intervals by the park officials and by a team of trained veterinary doctors.
Every year, during the monsoon, the elephants get their well-deserved break in the form of a rejuvenation camp where they are treated to special diets, cleanliness checks, grooming and relaxation.
Kanha was one of the first 9 protected areas brought under Project Tiger, India's response to the grave threat to the tiger. Owing to untiring management efforts, the population of tigers have increased from 48 in 1976 to around 100 at present. Kanha supports a viable population of this endangered and magnificent species.
The hard ground barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii branderi), whose endemic and the only world population is in Kanha, had witnessed a steep decline and reached almost the brink of extinction during the early seventies. Conservation measures in the park have restored the barasingha population from a mere 66 head in 1970 to around 750 of today, a relatively safer status.
As many as 38 villages have been relocated from the national park. The core zone is now completely free from human habitation. The sites from where the villages were relocated have now been developed into excellent heterogeneous grasslands supporting a variety of wildlife.
There are 118 strategically located patrolling camps in the Core Zone. Each camp is manned by a forest guard and his one or two camp watchers. They patrol forest areas of around 6-8 sq. km. daily. There are 50 patrolling camps in the Buffer Zone, and 12 patrolling camps in Phen wildlife sanctuary, ensuring protection on the same lines.
Considering the conditions/ eventualities for remotely located personnel in the protected area, a forest dispensary has also been set up at Mukki. The forest dispensary is modestly equipped, with a fulltime physician to examine the staff and dispense medicines. The physician also tours the protected area and visit patrolling camps on fixed days for health check-ups. The tiger reserve has three ambulances, and if required, these vehicles carry the sick and indisposed to hospitals at Mandla, Balaghat, Jabalpur or Nagpur for specialized treatment. The physician also treats the villagers of the Buffer Zone free as and when required. Besides, in collaboration with several NGOs, the tiger reserve also organizes health camps for the staff as well as villagers of the Buffer Zone. At these health camps, physicians examine all the registered patients and dispense them medicines free of cost. Serious patients are asked to visit them again in district places for follow-ups and sustained treatment. The ambulance services are also extended to the sick and indisposed villagers of the Buffer Zone.
The Kanha management has also strived over the years to ensure effective park-people cooperation. This has resulted in the constitution of 161 ecodevelopment committees, micro-plans and effective ecodevelopmental works.
Barasingha were once plentiful in central India. They were distributed in parts of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar and Orissa. But their habitat and population shrank rapidly. In 1938, their population in and around Kanha was only 3,023. In other areas only very small herds survived. The population in Kanha also declined rapidly.
In 1970, a mere 66 barasingha were left in the park. This was the last and only population of the hard ground barasingha world-wide wild or captive! Certainly, this most handsome of the Indian deer family had reached the brink of extinction.
The major reason for the barasingha decline was drastic reduction in the grasslands habitat. Most of the meadows came under the plough or under heavy grazing pressure by cattle, driving out all wild herbivores. Of all these, the barasingha were the most seriously affected as they feed exclusively on grass thus rendering them helpless outside the grassland habitat. Research revealed that barasingha dropped their fawns in potential tall grass areas during mid-monsoon and the tall grass cover provided the main security to the fawns. Overgrazing by livestock gradually destroyed safe fawning sites. Their breeding, food and survival are thus inevitably linked with the open grasslands. At the same time, barasingha suffered heavy predation by man. The diurnal nature of these animals, their relatively easy sighting near at hand and their confiding nature made them an easy target of the hunters.
In 1954, a ban on the hunting of barasingha was imposed all over the state of Madhya Pradesh. Another likely cause of the depletion in the barasingha population could have been the profuse baiting of tigers practised since 1964 in the Kanha meadows, the only barasingha habitat at that time. This caused a large number of tigers to inhabit and frequent the meadows, resulting in an abnormal predation of the barasingha.
A combination of various painstaking efforts has resulted in the barasingha population in the park growing steadily. Today the park has around 750 barasingha. The other conservation measures are discussed here.
Agriculture and cattle grazing had impoverished the moisture regime in the park. Small dams and earthen bund tanks were constructed. This improved the availability of water. Green grass fodder along the stream beds was also improved. This measure helped reduce grazing pressure by the ungulates on the Kanha meadow.
To facilitate tiger-sighting by the tourists, baiting for tiger had been practice at Kanha since 1961. It took some years to realize the correlation between tiger-baiting and decline of barasingha populations. In 1969, the baiting site was shifted. This had an immediate favourable effect and in 1970-71, only three barasingha kills by tiger were observed. Between 1971 and 1973, only three barasingha kills by the tiger could be found. Since 1979, tiger-baiting has been given up altogether.
The breeding areas of the barasingha have been brought under intensive anti-poaching patrol since 1969. With more staff, equipment and an exclusive set-up for the management of the park, a firm control has become effective.
Burning the grass on the meadows was an annual winter practice to prevent widespread fire later, during the summer months. As the soil still retained some moisture during the winter, the rhizomes gave out green shoots soon after the grass was burnt. But, in the long run, this practice had a negative effect on the meadows. While the green shoots that grew after the burn seemed good fodder, continuous burning ultimately degraded the meadows.
In-situ conservation of barasingha was adopted by erecting a carnivore – proof enclosure to preserve and rear a few animals. From time to time the animals are released from the enclosure. The enclosure was later expanded to around 50 ha., and has become a good tool for capturing and translocating the species.