According to official records, it was in 2002 that tiger was last sighted in Yawal. Absence of protection and rampant encroachments had resulted in all big cats either being driven away or poached. We should all be pleased with a direct sighting of a tiger by villagers and forest staff, which has subsequently being captured by camera traps.

"We learnt of the presence of a tiger after it lifted a bullock of a villager from Langda Amba. Suspected to be a male, it was recorded in camera traps on January 3 and again on January 6," said SV Ramarao, conservator of forests (CF), wildlife, Nashik.

All hopes for returning Yawal sanctuary to its original form had been lost due to large-scale encroachments, grazing and illicit felling. It has only been able to regain some of its original charm due to determined action against illicit activities over the last two years.

"We removed 572 structures built on 1,208 hectare of rich forested areas by encroachers using Forest Rights Act (FRA). Most encroachers hailed from neighbouring MP." said Ramarao. He told TOI that a 40-km-long sanctuary border on MP side was sealed by constructing 15 protection camps. These camps are jointly manned by forest staff and villagers. It has led to complete control over trespassers from MP. "We also reduced illicit felling and grazing and constructed waterholes. The lands vacated by encroachers have turned into meadows and animals have returned to the area," said Ramarao.

In the past six months, chitals, chinkara and other herbivores, as well as leopard, wolf, sloth bear and hyenas were being recorded in 22 camera traps installed all over the sanctuary. The Satpuda Foundation said "It is a dream come true and the result of Wan, Ambabarwa and Narnala sanctuaries being declared critical tiger habitats (CTH) and included in Melghat Tiger Reserve."

TOI on April 16, 2012, was the first to report on a demand for a Khandesh tiger reserve in Jalgaon. However, due to political opposition the demand is not being considered. The Satpuda ranges in Khandesh are known for their tall mountains and rich bio-diversity. The topology is ideal for wildlife with rare species of flora and fauna nestling here. Yawal is 177 sq.km while the Vadoda range adjoining it is 145 sq.km. Together they can be a tiger reserve.

Khandesh is a low rainfall area and much of the district's water comes from the Satpuda range forests to the north. Yawal and its adjoining forests are sources of vital rivers, the largest being the Sukkin and the Aner, on which dams have been constructed.

"We always tried to prove that Jalgaon district had tigers but the Forest Department never believed us. In the last two years, maybe because of better protection, big cats seem to have not only returned to Jalgaon but have started breeding," said Rajendra Nannaware of Satpuda Bachao Kriti Samiti, Jalgaon.

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