Human prey

Four people have been mauled to death by tigers over the past few weeks in Karnataka’s southern-most districts of Kodagu, Mysore and Chamarajanagar.

Understandably, the tiger attacks have triggered panic among villagers living on the fringes of the Bandipur Tiger Sanctuary and the Nagarahole National Park, as it is here that these incidents have occurred. While the four victims were killed in separate incidents, one tiger is believed to have carried out at least two of the attacks, raising fears that this tiger could have turned a man-eater. Terrified villagers are demanding that the tigers be killed. They have damaged property of the Project Tiger office to press their demand. While their fear is understandable, killing tigers, even man-eating ones is not the solution to the problem.  At the heart of the tiger attacks is the man-tiger conflict. With human beings moving into areas once inhabited by wild animals and forest cover shrinking, space available for animals like tigers is shrinking as is the availability of animal prey on which they feed. This together with injury or advanced age drives tigers to enter human habitations in search of prey. 

Officials must follow scrupulously the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) laid down by the National Tiger Conservation Authority earlier this year. Authorities must act swiftly to calm the villagers. Security must be improved along the periphery of forests to prevent the big cats from straying into villages. Importantly, the tiger that killed two people must be nabbed immediately. It appears to be a man-eater as it seems to be preying on humans. But the decision whether or not it is a man-eater must be taken after careful deliberation. Many will bay for this tiger’s blood but its elimination should be the last option. It could be captured and sent to a zoo instead. Tigers that attacked humans but are not man eaters should be radio-collared and released into the jungle in areas where prey is plentiful.

The man-animal conflict in India is worsening. Both sides have suffered grievous losses. According to official data, 653 people were killed and 17,062 injured over the past decade in 12 Indian states.  The number of elephants, tigers, lions, bears and boars killed by poachers, speeding vehicles and trains, and terrified villagers is just as worrying. One way to mitigate this man-animal conflict is to increase leg room for the wild animals. Linking forest reserves and protecting the corridors is an idea worth exploring.

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