Venturing outside territory key reason for tiger deaths

Venturing outside territory key reason for tiger deaths

Venturing outside territory key reason for tiger deaths

In the last few weeks, a spate of tiger deaths in Karnataka has been reported which has stirred concerns for tiger safety once again in the public mind. Questions are being raised about the conservation and management of the species. An attempt is being made here to explain the status of tiger conservation and its future.

Over the years, due to consistent protection effort by the forest department, the tiger numbers have undoubtedly increased all over the country and including in Karnataka. Tiger population in the country rose by 30% as per the last census in 2014, which pegged the number to 2,226. In Karnataka, the rise in the tiger numbers has been more than the national average, with the number increasing from 300 to more than 400 in four years.

Tigers are entering new areas and are being reported or camera trapped from areas hitherto unknown for them. Whether it was the tigress which had ventured into the neighbouring villages close to the Nagarahole National Park or the young tiger caught in a snare in Kodagu or the wild tiger which, a year ago, had been spotted in the Bannerghatta National Park, all of them have one thing in common – tigers are moving out into new territories, beyond the areas meant death for them.

And this phenomenon is being observed not just in Karnataka, but in other parts of India as well. Recently, a tiger was spotted for the first time after 40 years in Darjeeling district. In the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, which has the second largest population of tigers after Karnataka, tigers are now being spotted in the most unexpected of regions such as Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary at an attitude of 13,000 feet and even in the backyard of Mussorie hills.

There are no known record of tigers ever found in these areas previously. There are similar stories in Goa, where tigers have been camera trapped at a sanctuary. Tiger mortality: We often forget that this majestic animal needs its own individual space to survive. A tiger marks its territory depending upon the prey base and fiercely guards it; and will not tolerate any intrusion by other emerging tigers and often this leads to bloody fights which may be fatal. More births will obviously mean more deaths. So tiger mortality is bound to go up with increase in its number.

Tigers in the wild have an average life span of 10 years and with Karnataka having 400 tigers, one can safely assume that at least 40 tigers will have to die in a year for natural reasons. The weaker, injured and older tigers are pushed into newer territories in search of food, often spilling them at the edge of the protected areas in direct confrontation with humans. It is here that the tigers are most vulnerable to poaching and also at the risk of getting trapped in snares set up for wild boars. Most of the tigers in news recently were operating in fringe areas of the forest.

The problem is only going to be more acute in the coming years. With 24/7 anti-poaching camps and use of technology, our protection levels are only going to be more robust giving the tiger and other wildlife a good chance to breed in the safe interiors of the forest. Thus, tigers will continue to spill out in more and more numbers in areas of less wilderness and sub-optimal habitat. In the last few years, the face of the countryside including the areas in the vicinity of wildlife reserves has changed rapidly with less and less scope for co-existence with man.

The road ahead
What is the solution? Should we have a military solution and erect foolproof fencing all around the parks and sanctuary without bothering about corridors linking to other protected areas or for the natural instinct of free ranging and migrating animals? Such harsh measures may not be required. Then how can we accommodate these increasing tigers? There is a possibility of increasing the ‘space’ within the forests itself.

The forest dwellers in villages and hamlets located inside the sanctuaries could be rehabilitated to other areas for which people are now increasingly willing. The Karnataka Forest Department is already at it and work is being actively carried out in Kudremukh and Kali Tiger reserves. This will help in increasing the prey base and hence could accommodate more tigers. Similarly, sincere efforts need to be done to improve the habitat by removing weeds, which are a menace and have seriously affected the availability of quality palatable local vegetation.

The open spaces in the forest are excellent herbivore habitat and have to be managed like that. The rigid protection and fire control is permitting the tree species to encroach such open areas, reducing the availability of grasslands and this has to be prevented.

Even creating more such openings may not be a bad idea. The concept of buffer zones and eco-sensitive zones, as provided by law, are a positive step for safeguarding the wildlife interest in areas outside the core zone.

With development and infrastructure seriously threatening to encroach and fragment tiger landscapes as never before, there is almost no possibility of adding more areas around the parks or acquiring lands for corridors in the near future. The tigers and other animals operating in the fringe areas and coming in serious conflict with man, or the ones snared or grievously injured need to be rehabilitated elsewhere. This is urgently needed to reduce the man-animal conflict.

More rehabilitation centres, safaris and zoos need to be created and this could well be done in the tree parks being created in every district by Forest Department in Karnataka. The flipside of tiger success story is inevitable and will only magnify in the future. Thus, the faster the people, the policy-makers and politicians understand this, the more consciously the next steps could be taken.

(The writer is Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Forest Department, Bengaluru)

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