More than a hundred households living within Bihar's Valmiki Tiger Reserve have switched from the traditional mud stoves to the more efficient eco-friendly 'chulhas' to reduce their dependency on forest for fuel wood - a move that would boost conservation of the big cat.
It is hoped the green stoves or 'chulhas' would help cut fuel wood use by 40 percent, which would also allow the forest to rejuvenate and increase security for the tigers.
The green stoves use maximum energy produced from burning of fuel wood. An iron grate positioned just above the stove's base provides room for air circulation that helps the fuel to burn efficiently.
The households are part of the 25 revenue villages in Done Valley, that is spread over a 45 sq km area in the heart of the sprawling Valmiki reserve, the only tiger sanctuary in the state.
"Seven villages are currently part of the initiative, the remaining ones will be taken up in phases," said Samir Sinha, who is implementing the project and manager of NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).
Some 18,000 villagers in the valley depend on agriculture for livelihood. However, during the off-season many migrate to places as far as Delhi, Punjab and Gujarat to work as labourers, said Sinha.
The Valmiki reserve, an 880 sq km sal forest on the Terai foothills, is home to 11 tigers, according to the reserve's Field Director Santosh Tiwari.
The reserve extends up to Chitwan National Park in Nepal in the north, providing hundreds of miles of contiguous forest cover to many other threatened animals like sambar, nilgai, gaur, rhino and various species of primates.
"Of the seven villages, Matiarwa has achieved 100 percent participation. The rest are progressing in varying degrees," Sinha said. Other villages are Majuraha, Gardi, Naurangia, Piprahwa, Khairahni and Senrahni.
Stakeholders' participation, acceptable design, monitoring and problem solving were crucial for the success of the present initiative, said Sinha. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and Germany's Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union are the other supporters of the project.
Pune-based research organisation Appropriate Rural Technology Institute was contacted to train the local women, since they were the main users, said Sinha. Of the three designs, they picked the one that resembled the traditional chulha, he said.
Initially, only the trained women were asked to install the stove in their homes, which served as demonstration sites. They were paid by WTI, thus generating employment for them.
The mud chimneys for the stoves also brought brisk business for the village potter. Those who wanted to install the chulha contacted these women who charged them an installation fee.
The stoves were monitored for their efficiency by the WTI team.
Data over the past few months shows an average reduction of about 40 percent in fuel wood consumption compared to the traditional stoves.
Apart from the human disturbances, poaching continues to be the biggest threat to the animals in the park.
A male rhino that had crossed into Valmiki Tiger Reserve from Nepal in March this year was found dead with its horn chopped off in the Valmiki Nagar forest range in May. Last year, a tigress was also found dead in Madanpur range.
A small number of rhinos still live in the reserve's Valmiki forest range, where the grasslands provide them a perfect home.
India made saving the tiger one of its top priorities. The government's latest tiger census report released in March this year put the tiger population at about 1,700, a slight improvement from the previous report in 2008, which estimated it to be around 1,400.