Man vs Tiger Struggle for survival
Vivek Deshpande Posted online: Oct 06, 2008 at 2359 hrs
The 50-km stretch between Nagbhid and Mul on the Nagpur-Chandrapur state highway is dotted with lush green fields of paddy. There are few patches of forests — less than a kilometre. Yet, the villages on both sides of the highway are bearing the brunt of the man-tiger conflict. A conflict that has claimed 38 lives and left about 25 injured in this nearly 1,000-sq km area over less than three years.
The latest encounter was on September 4, near Talodhi village, where a shepherd lost his life to a tigress. The animal was suspected to have killed five others in the past year, bringing back memories of the Talodhi incident last October-November, when a tiger was shot dead after it killed four persons in the paddy fields.
With the tigers becoming more aggressive, villages in the belt are getting increasingly restive. Even as the Forest Department struggles to cope with the tiger crisis, increasing leopard attacks have added to the problem, with two deaths being reported in Junona area within eight days last month.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has sanctioned Rs 36 lakh for the forest department’s contingency plan, but whether that will help the ground situation remains to be seen.
In Chandrapur district, home to around 90 tigers, many villages are located near forests contiguous with the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) — which alone accounts for 44 tigers in its 625-sq km area. The conflict is largely restricted to the Nagbhid-Mul belt which has a greater concentration of villages.
The alarm bells first rang in May 2006, when four attacks, one fatal, were reported within two days in Nagbhid and its surrounding area. Villagers say they have been encountering tigers for about three years now. Consider this: 11 deaths were reported in 2006, 14 in 2007, and 13 this year. About 2,120 cattle were reported to have been killed by tigers in these three years.
Experts believe successful conservation has resulted in a spurt in the population of tigers in TATR, resulting in a spillover to adjoining forests, which have little prey to offer. Moreover, the human population has also grown exponentially, with villagers moving deeper into the forests. The result: a conflict between tigers and humans as both fight for survival.
While 2006 saw most cases in Nagbhid range, the problem shifted to Talodhi range in 2007, and progressively downwards to Sindewahi and Mul ranges. One of the victims was a leprosy-afflicted inmate of Baba Amte’s farm project at Somnath in Mul. Now, the attacks seem to have come full circle, with six deaths being reported from Nagbhid range since March this year.
Conservationists say wildlife managers should have anticipated this post-conservation situation. Now, villages are up in arms against forest officials. In October-November last year, following the Talodhi deaths, villagers attacked Forest Department vehicles, and even held up officials in Sonapur village. Finally, the tiger was shot dead.
The villagers’ stand is: “cage them or kill them, it’s your job”. Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) B Majumdar says the “attacks could be in self-defence. Let’s not forget most of these cases have happened when people ventured into the forests, except in Talodhi where it attacked them in paddy fields... It is very difficult to cage a tiger.”
Meanwhile, local politicians have been adding fuel to the fire by slamming the forest department’s “inaction”. Questions have been raised in the Assembly on the issue.
“Such skirmishes are not uncommon in wildlife areas. In the instant area, the biotic and poaching pressures are much more intense,” says NTCA member-secretary Rajesh Gopal. “We have approved the
Forest Department’s plan to tackle it,” he adds.
The plan includes:
• Survey of the area to assess the population and distribution of tigers and other animals, and to understand the reasons for man-animal conflict.
• Determine the habitat degradation, water bodies, natural wild animal dwellings and other physical features.
• Improve protection and monitoring system through training the field staff of the state forest department in wildlife management.
• Monitor the tigers and study their movements carefully.
• Undertake community awareness programmes to reduce human pressure like minor forest produce collection, poaching and cattle grazing. Create greater awareness about co-existence with wildlife.
•Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India
The growing human-animal conflict is set to be the primary issue for wildlife conservation in India in the coming decade. The problem is already huge but has not received sufficient attention, nor has there been an effort to even document its extent. Apart from the Sunderbans, tigers do not go around hunting people. What is happening in TATR is very sad and very unusual.
The tragic human deaths are probably the work of just a few errant tigers. It may have started with a wounded tigress who turned to killing people to feed her cubs. Perhaps these cubs then grew up with the same behavioural traits. We will probably never know, but it’s certainly a problem that has to do be dealt with urgently and effectively.
The first job at hand is to accurately identify and remove the offending tiger/s by using scientific methods such as digital pugmark identification and camera traps. A team should be put together under the guidance of the Wildlife Institute of India to do this. WPSI has also collected data on each and every TATR tiger conflict case, and we are in the process of analysing the data. By pooling all the expertise and information available, it should be possible to put a stop to the tiger attacks around Tadoba.
•Debi Goenka, Bombay Natural History Society
Tatr’s success has led to tigers breeding well. Young cubs tend to move to new territories because of biotic pressures. Unfortunately, buffer areas are also not free from biotic activities, leading to the unfortunate situation. Success leading to tragedy is a complete failure of the forest department. Are we conserving tigers to kill them as in Talodhi? The non-wildlife wings are not co-operating in wildlife matters. There is urgent need to increase the inviolate area beyond present TATR confines and also throw a safety net around these virtually orphaned tigers in the non-protected areas.
Preetam Meshram, 29, Jankapur (Nagbhid) August 13, 2007
“I was grazing buffaloes when suddenly a tiger pounced on me. I fell on my back and the tiger was all over me. With one hand, I stuck my umbrella’s pointed bar hard into his neck and with the other kept repulsing one of the paws he was striking at me. I then rolled up my legs and gave the tiger one hard push, throwing him off my body. Apparently deterred, he stood at a distance, looking at me. I ran back to the village. The encounter lasted just over two minutes. I don’t dare to go there alone now.”
Sunderbai Wanjari, 62, Bhuyar (Nagbhid) May 29, 2007
“I was plucking tendu leaves with my daughter Maya, who was a little away. Suddenly, I heard a scream. I saw my daughter lying on the ground with blood oozing from her neck. She told me she was attacked by a tiger. I gave her some water, and left her for a minute. When I returned, she was not there. There were marks on the ground. I followed them, only to find her body a few metres away.