"We have decided to turn 800 hectares of forest into the biggest grassland for tigers in the country. The work has already begun," said Santosh Tiwari, Director-cum-Conservator of the Valmiki Tiger Reserve in West Champaran district that borders Nepal.

There is no place in the country where such a large grassland can be constructed."We have estimated that we will spend Rs 2 crore," Tiwari said.

One other major problem is that residents of bordering villages of Uttar Pradesh used the core forest area for grazing their cattle.

"We will have to fence and develop grassland to check the grazing of cattle," Tiwari said.

He said that after the grassland was fully developed, it will become a safe zone for tigers as well as deer in the reserve. More grassland will support more prey animals, which will in turn support more tigers.

Tiwari further said the Madanpur forest range in the tiger reserve is home to many herbivores because the rich alluvial soil enriched by the river Gandak has favoured the growth of grasses.

The grasses in the reserve include imperata cylindrica, saccharum spontaneum and saccharum munja.

Samir Kumar Sinha of the Wildlife Trust of India, which is helping the forest department to develop the grassland, said the tiger reserve had more grassland in the past.

People also turned them into agricultural land. Thanks to the improvement in the condition of the grassland, the number of tigers in the reserve has more than doubled in the last three years.

Mixed forest vegetation is crucial for the herbivores as they are important sources of food. The availability of quality food boosts their chances of breeding.

"We have counted 22 tigers in the reserve at present on the basis of camera trap census," Tiwari said.

"In last three years, the population of tigers has jumped like never before in the 899 sq km reserve. Besides, intensive patrolling by local youth played a major role in checking the entry of poachers and others in the reserve," Tiwari added.

(Agencies)

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