By Pamela Raghunath, Correspondent, Gulf News.

Mumbai: Conservationists and forest officials are thrilled that the relocation of two villages from the core area of Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR), north-east Maharashtra, has brought wildlife back into a territory once inhabited by people.

“Finally, we are getting good news from Melghat as many forest officers and I myself have seen herds of sambar [large deer] , chital (spotted deer) and even jackals in the meadows where the monsoon rains have turned the once agricultural fields into a carpet of lush green grass,” Kishor Rithe, conservationist, Satpuda Foundation, told Gulf News from MTR. Maharashtra's forest department staff at the protection camp also say they have spotted tiger, leopard and sloth bear which are slowly becoming regular visitors.

This positive change was expected after the relocation of Vairat and Churni villages which were situated in the core area of MTR, on the border between the national park and wildlife sanctuary, he says. The buffer area circles the park and sanctuary. With the new government notification that all villages in the core reserve zones should be relocated, the Maharashtra government is working on a war footing to resettle the villages although this is a mammoth task. Only nine villages have been relocated while 20 are yet to be moved out.

The relocation of the two villages was completed in November 2011 with Churni and its population of 201 shifted to Ghatladaki, Amravati district, and Vairat with 256 population moved to two sites thus freeing 134 hectares of land for wildlife. Already, the results are great, says Rithe who has been working relentlessly for tiger conservation for the last two decades. The sambar population in the Gugamal forests, which was deprived of good grazing ground for several years due to pressure from human settlement of Vairat, which had a large livestock, is now back, along with other animals.It's a beautiful sight,” he says. “I was overwhelmed to see three herds of Sambar right in the middle of the meadow when I visited the site last Friday.”

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