Handle tiger protection sensibly

Just when it looked like Karnataka was ending 2014 with an impressive record in tiger conservation, the shooting down of a man-eater on December 28 has marred its achievement somewhat.

More than the killing itself, the sequence of events leading to it is shocking and displays amateurishness that is not expected from a state with the maximum number of tigers in India.

After the tiger was trapped in Chikkamagaluru following its attack on a woman, it should have been lodged in a zoo or in a physically cordoned off sanctuary. Instead, going against the advice of wildlife experts, the government released it in the forests of Khanapur taluk in Belagavi district.

As feared, the tiger mauled a pregnant woman triggering panic in the area. Once the line was crossed for the second time, public outcry seems to have pressured forest officials into doing something drastic, resulting in the tiger’s death. 

With human-wildlife conflict increasing over the years due to forest encroachments and expansion of people’s habitat, the Khanapur incidence is a classic example of how not to deal with a crisis.

In the present instance, there was no cogent explanation from the authorities on the rationale behind releasing it in Khanapur. The four-year-old tiger which had grown up in the Bhadra tiger reserve was unfamiliar with the new terrain and this, experts say, may have contributed to its straying into areas of human habitation. Desperation in its hunt for food could have forced it to prey on a human.

Another more serious issue was the failure of the radio-tracking collar which was meant to keep the tiger on the forest department’s radar round the clock. Its dysfunction compounded the problem and aggravated an already tense situation.

The forest department should urgently examine whether the radio collars on other tigers are functioning and take appropriate action if there are problems with others. The radio tracking feature is at the heart of tiger conservation and cannot be allowed to derail. 

What makes the goof-up all the more inexplicable is the fact that Karnataka is among the most experienced states when it comes to dealing with tiger conservation and has an enviable record to boot. Having witnessed the death of 16 tigers in the state in 2013, the fatalities reduced sharply to six in 2014 (including the latest one).

If the Khanapur fiasco was an isolated incident and the outcome of a genuine miscalculation, one hopes that the foresters will draw the appropriate lessons and next time around, take the most sensible decision instead of being adventurous and experimenting with the lives of these precious animals.

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