Tigers thrive in forest once used by bandit Veerappan

A tiger in the wild in India Only about 1,500 tigers are thought to be left in India

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Officials in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu say tiger numbers have risen in forests once used as a jungle hideout by notorious bandit Veerappan.

A decade ago any sightings of tigers in Sathyamangalam forest were rare, officials say. Now they say tigers are even breeding in the area.

The forest was used by Veerappan, a notorious sandalwood smuggler and hunter, until he was killed in 2004.

Part of the forest was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 2008.

It is an important migratory corridor for large mammals and is home to large numbers of elephants, black bucks, vultures and other animals and birds.

Joint patrols

Forest department officials say about 20 tigers have been caught on film by hidden cameras.

DNA analysis carried out on tiger droppings confirm the presence of at least 13 tigers in the forest, the officials say.

"Until 10 years ago tigers were rarely sighted here," S Rama Subramaniyan, district forest officer of Sathyamangalam, told the BBC.

"Now we have even captured [on film] breeding tigers here.

"Tigers are fiercely territorial animals. Since the number of tigers are going up in the nearby Mudumalai and Bandipur reserves, tigers might have come here and settled," Mr Subramaniyan said.

The forest department is conducting joint patrolling operations with forest officials in neighbouring Karnataka state.

Tamil Nadu already has three tiger reserves. If declared as the fourth reserve, Sathyamangalam will receive generous grants from the central government.

The tiger population is rapidly diminishing in northern and western parts of India. Latest estimates say only about 1,500 tigers are left in the country.

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