The big cat fights for space

CONFLICT

The big cat fights for space

The recent incident of a male tiger succumbing to poison in its kill near the Kabini area of Nagarhole is a dreadful reminder of the ferocity with which the villagers respond to a tiger attacking livestock. When both human beings and wildlife are constantly struggling for space, damage of life and property become inevitable, but this can turn very serious if the recurrence of such incidents is not avoided, writes Madhumitha B

When this big cat emerges from the undergrowth of the jungle, carrying with it all the magnificence of its stripes and stride, there is the often described feeling of the heart skipping a beat.

The moment will almost always last only a few seconds but the reverberations of that simple glimpse will positively remain for a lifetime. From then on, the Royal Bengal Tiger has become an integral part of you.

There is something almost indescribable, about the grandeur of a tiger that has captivated generations of people. From hunters to collectors, from poets to writers and from conservationists to scientists.

It is, today, the symbol of conservation that represents the importance of preserving our natural ecosystem. Such is the impact this species of big cat has made. It is only natural then that there is so much emphasis and passion every time the subject of discussion is the tiger.

Over the years, the realisation of the role the tiger in the sphere of the forest ecology has been greater. Through the work of wildlife biologists and ecologists alike, we have substantial scientific data to support the fact that this predator has a major role to play in keeping the checks and balances of the ecosystem in place. And wildlife laws provide foresters with the authority required to exercise their responsibility to provide protection.

Although this ups the ante for the tiger, and in turn the forest, when it comes to conservation, it does not necessarily mean the species is not vulnerable.

Across the country, the tiger does not always have it easy when it comes to survival. Natural causes aside, sometimes it is about lack of space and other times lack of protection.

Yet other times, space and security can still not completely thwart the effort to keep the tiger from venturing out of the forests. And it is such incidents that can trigger an animosity between villagers and the wildlife while presenting an immensely challenging task for foresters who must ensure that the aftermath of such a conflict with the human race, does not include a grudge against the species.

Prevalent more dominantly in some parts of the country’s tiger reserves, the issue of human-tiger conflict is not one that comes up as the most challenging of problems for conservation in Karnataka. This is not to say that there is no conflict but that here, it varies both in degree and type.

According to Ullas Karanth, Director - Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India programme, conflict is taking place, although outside of the forest, and the cause could be one involving the natural life cycle of the tiger.

Going by some of the recent incidents of tigers in close proximity with the human population in the fringes of the forests, loss of territory due to age or young tigers establishing their own domain, seems to have led them outside, sometimes lifting livestock.

Or another reason, as pointed out by wildlife biologist Karanth, could be the number of tigers in Karnataka that has seen an increase.

“There is high prey density and high tiger density in the tiger reserves here in Karnataka. Young animals finding new breeding grounds, the male of the species establishing territory or older tigers losing their zone could, at times, result in them venturing out of the forests.

And maybe such conflict is the price we have to pay for the success achieved by protecting and enabling the species to grow here in Karnataka. Conflict, specifically here (Karnataka) should then be viewed in perspective of the years of good work done to support this population. Gearing up to respond to such incidents is important,” he added.

When both human beings and wildlife are constantly struggling for space, damage of life and property become inevitable but this can turn very serious if the recurrence of such incidents is not avoided. This is known first hand by foresters who are caught between species protection and the interests of the local people when faced with human-wildlife conflict.

“Every year, a number of cattle are lost to leopards and tigers. It is a known fact but that does not mean it can be allowed. The effort is always to minimise this loss coupled with preventing any aggressive reaction against the species and one way we attempt to reach out to these people is by ensuring that compensation for loss of livestock is immediately addressed,” stated R Gokul, Conservator of Forests and Director - Nagarhole Tiger Reserve.

Avenging livestock loss

The most recent incident of a male tiger succumbing to poison in its kill near the Kabini area of Nagarhole is a dreadful reminder of the ferocity with which the villagers respond to the tiger attacking livestock. Since then, the Forest Department has initiated a special team, an extension of the existing Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF), to patrol the sensitive zones as well as investigate the death of the tiger.

Additionally, Gokul said, there have been regular interactions with the villagers in and around the national park, apart from workshops that explain the limitations when it comes to restricting wildlife within a space and how it can be addressed together.

“We need to be alert now, more than ever. Tigers cannot share territories; these areas cannot overlap and because of this, they sometimes stray into villages. The tiger is our national animal and we (the Forest Department) are proud of the fact that the forests in Karnataka are enabling these big cats to thrive. This momentum cannot be lost and all steps must and will be taken to protect these numbers achieved as a result of good conservation,” shared Gokul.

Knowledge of the species can go a long way in addressing challenges, when they surface. Camera trapping has immensely helped in establishing a database of tigers over many years now and this, felt Karanth, can help counter a situation such as conflict in a more pragmatic way. Compensations, when given on time, along with addressing the concerns of local people, can minimise the escalation of any problem.

It can also safeguard the tiger from being at the receiving end of human aggression.
While Karnataka is proud of the benefits of its hard work over the years, with a thriving population of tigers, there is no time to take a moment to acknowledge this effort. Instead, the foresters are busy to make sure that the status it has gained as a tiger state continues to live on.

Despite incidents of loss of tigers in the wild, there needs to be hope that aggressive efforts, even if intermittent at times, will always see to it that these majestic big cats bounce back and continue to survive. There is no other option.

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