Nestled in the ranges of the Satpuras in Madhya Pradesh and abounding in Sal and mixed forests, Kanha was one of the first 9 Project Tiger areas initiated in 1973. The total area covers 1945 sq. kms with a core area of 940 sq. kms. The area was enlarged after Project Tiger was initiated and still awaits final legal notification. The tiger population was said to be 48 in 1976 and is estimated today at 100.
The management input into Kanha Tiger Reserve of the Central Indian highlands, from where the reverberating call of the tiger and the braying of the mating hard ground Barasingha resounds has probably achieved quite spectacular results during the past two decades. Though the management is far from satisfied from the results, which reflects the uncompromising, dedicated and may be somewhat impatient but correct approach, yet it must be said, that Kanha is most likely the area, where most of the objectives of Project Tiger had been very faithfully pursued. This naturally has produced the desired results to show the way for future action.
Through intensive protection of the natural habitat and the resident mute denizens and also by complete elimination of the biotic influences in Kanha, it was possible to retrieve the ecological loss, that had been sustained earlier. Kanha once again looked probably like what Forsythe, Brander and Kipling had observed decades back. In its attempt to free the core area from human interference, 26 villages were removed from the area, the villagers had to be motivated to volunteer to leave their ancestral home land. This in itself should by taken as a milestone, as we are aware of countless onesided cases of man encroaching upon wild animals habitat, not the other way. The deserted villages have given rise to various interesting developments in animal ecology and behaviour, which has also been observed, at least partially and some documented, which provides interesting knowledge. Total fire protection has caused tremendous improvement in the water regime, which has given a new dimension to the flora, specially the grasses, herbs and shrubs. Many ecological situations, favorable to all life forms, was observed.
The Barasingha bounced back, once left to nature. The causes of its earlier decline, as had been explained, worked out to be incorrect. H.S. Panwar found another cause - human disturbance in the Barasinga habitat to be the real reason of its decline. But change of behaviour by packs of jackals, many of whom have taken to predating on fawns of chitals or the extremely limited black bucks still remains a matter of research, specially as the future of the Black bucks in Kanha appears to be dependent on this wholly unnatural scourge of their young ones.
This is the only Tiger Reserve, where some substantial ecological research had been carried out, under the able hands of a keen researcher, who had been aptly supported by the Field Director.
Research in the Park cover a vast arena of new and exciting information from the creation of a field laboratory, eco-monitoring, data collection on population dynamics, dispersal patterns of wild animals, intra and inter-specific relations, feeding habits of carnivora and herbivora, development of herbarium, checklists of birds, plants and a faunal inventory, use of land-sat imageries to study habitat parameters, use of radio telemetry to study land tenure of tiger's and so on and 60 research papers have been published and from this there have been 7 doctoral dissertations and a post doctoral thesis.
The first interpretation centre has also been set up here, though it may not be the most ideal one to educate the masses, who reside at the fringe and require most to be motivated. The core area has been enlarged and at present the management is trying to look beyond the boundary of the reserve in an attempt to spill over the effects, with the cooperation of the people.
But there has been some ominous development also staring the management on the face. Some political adventurists have been active in the fringe in their attempt to misguide the disgruntled section of the villagers and fan up this antagonism against the management, seemingly because the protected area (Kanha) has been locked up, denying them their traditional subsistence supply from the forests. And that too without any substitute. The villagers, who are almost entirely tribals and are descendents of 'ecosystem people', still retaining most of their `ecosystems life style' were first baffled and then tried to grapple with the problems, and fell easy victim to systematic brain washing of some "ism" even though few actively supported the antisocial outlaws.
Massive ecodevelopment planning has been taken up to counter this new menace. But this may take a little time. It may be the most crucial step ever taken in wildlife conservation, and under the exploding pressure on land by an ever increasing human population level, there seems to be no alternative to proper ecodevelopment for ensuring ecological stability in future. The current juncture appears to be the most troubled period. The past results of good works will have to be strengthened, as also new strategies to counter new threats will have to be created, which is quite a task for the future decade.
Kanha Tiger Reserve is the true flagship of Project Tiger in terms of management, research and the effective control of problems. In many ways it has set an example for all the other 18 tiger reserves but Bittu Saigal, Member Steering Committee of Project Tiger discussing the problem of fringe peoples and this protected area states "The people who fringe Kanha have absolutely no vested interest in protecting its buffer. They have no usufruct rights, they have no understanding of the reason, for Project Tiger to exist, they are not a part of the decision making processes which effect their lives". This might be a moment to actively involve the people in this Project Tiger reserve.