Buxa, nestled in the eastern Himalayan foothills with sprawling Terai landscapes and tea gardens encompass 759.26 sq.kms. In this mosaic of evergreen wet mixed, dry mixed, hill and riverine forests that border Assam and Bhutan live a rich selection of flora and fauna. The core area is 315 sq.kms.
Project Tiger was launched in February 1983 but demarcation of the area took place in 1986 and only in 1992 did the Core and buffer come into the control of the field director.
Whatever forest cover remained mostly in fragmented chunks, was put under an economic forestry management policy during the last century or a little more. In pursuit of economics, natural forest cover was first exploited and then plantations raised. Selection of species was again dictated by economics and not ecology, as alien teak was preferred to any other local or endemic species. Except in isolated patches the natural cover, endemic to this zone has mostly disappeared, which has obviously effected the extremely rich flora and fauna of the area.
Dense cover of lush green natural forests extend over 57% of the area and 17% is degraded, riverine forests including 36 villages with a human population in around Buxa of 2 lakhs and cattle populations of 1.125 lakhs. 26% of the forest area has been converted back to forest from forestry operations.
Revenue to the tune of 5.52 crores was realised in 1991-92 in this tiger reserve from sale of timber harvested from felling coupes, sale of firewood, sale of minor forest produce etc.
Ongoing activities include construction, road development, habitat improvement, development of artificial water holes, salt licks, Anicuts, radio, telephone networks, provision of water to forest villages and fringe populations and vaccination of live stock, provision of arms to field staff, development of a nature centre and rescuse camp for animals, preparation of habitat maps. A full fledged veterinary unit has yet to commence operations.
The beginnings of working with the people has started. Wells have been sunk, minor irrigation facilities developed, drinking water provided and some smokeless chullahs, pisciculture plots undertaken in selected forest villages.
Research activities that are starting in 1992 for the first time include.
18,000 people visited this reserve in 1991-92 and it is suggested that a tourism zone be made so that entry is strictly restricted. An interpretation centre will be made soon.
In 1979 there were 17 tigers, in 1989 there were 33 tigers and at the moment estimates suggest 25-30 tigers.
36 forest villages with a population of 16,000 live inside the Park and some population work on the felling coups. Increasing pressures on the outside create a demand for timber and firewood in urban and semi-urban areas and protection becomes increasingly difficults. The pressure of grazing is acute.
Mining for dolomite occurs, and areas involved are prone to heavy soil erosion, deforestation and rivulet widening etc. Several private companies and one government agency are involved in mining leases. This is a serious problem for the wildlife manager.
Depredations by wild elephants on crops, houses etc are a constraint to the harmony between the people and the forest.
Besides timber exploitation there is a large amount of oranges grown in orchards in the fringe of the reserve.
The Reserve has many problems which require early action for better management. Census figures of the prey base require serious review since they on their own can not form the base for the tiger and leopard.
Reduction of forestry operations in the buffer, a ban on mining, and a carefully planned strategy for eco-development with emphasis on effective land-use will help in reducing the pressures that have built up on the core area, and this project formulation is underway.
According to S. Deb Roy Member Steering Committee of Project-Tiger, "Besides, the damage done to the natural ecosystems in the past by replacing them with monoculture may never be recovered, which has probably permanently offset the biological pyramid. Under such staggering obstacles, the tiger may take a long long time to smile, even though the Project Tiger has taken up their job admiringly and is attempting to strike a balance between two conflicting interests."
"The Buxa Tiger Reserve is more or less contiguous with Manas, which is of great significance, specially for the elephants. But the possibility of a large multipurpose dam on the river Sankosh looms large. Once this "Development" takes place the fate of Buxa may well be sealed for ever."