The Human–Tiger Conflict:
Today I woke up to a WhatsApp message in one of my groups, the message was about a person, who got killed in the Buffer zone of Pench Tiger Reserve by a tiger. It was a very disturbing thing early in the morning. A man got killed and two were injured and then which generally happens after these types of incidents, a few anti-social elements in the mob beat a veterinarian very badly and also have broken many government vehicles. The forest department immediately shifted the veterinarian to Jabalpur hospital for better treatment.
The above incident shows how difficult to manage the situation of Tiger-Human conflict, especially when some human casualty happened. Basically, Tiger-Human conflict is either when a tiger killed a person or when it lifted cattle. The situation becomes worse when tigers enter the village in search of prey and become habitual in killing cattle or humans. The only option for these tigers is either to catch them or in the worst case to kill them.
In case of human killings, they are tagged with the title of Man-eater tiger, and then it is difficult for Forest Department to save it from the villagers and then in the larger interest of saving the Tiger as a species, it becomes necessary to catch or kill the conflict tigers.
The Cause of the Human-Tiger Conflict:
In the Words of Jim Corbett “A man-eating tiger is a tiger that has been compelled, through the stress of circumstances beyond its control, to adopt a diet alien to it. The stress of circumstances is, in nine cases out of ten, wounds, and in the tenth case old age.”
It is evident from the above statement from Jim Corbett, A famous tiger conservationist, who killed several man-eating tigers in the Kumaon region of North India that most of the conflict cases by the tiger are either wounds or inability to catch fast-moving wild animals.
So before going into the details of the cause we first have to understand the dynamics of the tiger population in India. A normal male cub separates from his mother when he is around two years old and when he separates, he has to find his own territory. In search of finding his own territory, he travels a lot. During this time, they are called transient. They cross villages, towns, and even cities in search of vacant space but this is the time when they are vulnerable and often come into conflict with local people. During their journey, they might kill livestock or rarely a human, generally when suddenly someone gets so close to them.
Another situation is when a tigress with cubs moves outside the protected area to save them from other resident tigers and to get easy prey like village livestock. In the Terai landscape in India and Nepal, it is found that tigresses often go into the sugarcane field for a safe refuge when they give birth.
They come into conflict with the villagers when an unaware farmer goes into the sugarcane field to cut his crop. According to the studies a tigress holds her territory for 6-10 years and a male tiger only for 2-4 years. After this period, they have to vacate the space for stronger contestants for the same area. They become transient and then they have to find a suitable territory again.
Tigers can live around 12-14 years in the wild and when they become old it is quite difficult for them to chase wild prey, their teeth fell and their body becomes weak. They are forced to evict their territory to a young and powerful contender. They go out from the forest in search of easy prey and then the conflict starts.
There are cases when villagers go deep inside the forest in search of minor forest produce or non-timber forest produce and they fall prey to the tigers. When they search for the product sometimes, they come closer to a sleeping or resting tiger, and out of surprise, they attack the intruder. In these cases, they generally kill the humans but don’t feed on them. Even while collecting firewood or grasses the posture of humans is confusing for the tigers. From distance, they think they are some kind of herbivore.
Apart from all these situations a wounded tiger, due to a fight with another tiger or wounded by the antler of a deer or by the tusk of big wild boar, or more commonly by the quails of a porcupine (Mostly in the case of the inexperienced tiger) or by a trap placed by poachers or in worst case an inexperienced hunter leaves a wounded tiger. These wounded tigers are unable to hunt and then they go for easy prey either livestock or human.
The consequences of the Human-Tiger Conflict:
After every incident, whether the tiger killed someone or the tiger got killed by someone, it is the defeat of the whole conservation effort. When a tiger killed cattle, the villagers poison the carcass and if the tiger feeds on it, he will die. The worst happened when it was a tigress with cubs. In the case of habitual man-eating cases, the ultimate fate of the tiger is either killed or spend his remaining life behind the bar in rescue centers.
In the case of conflict tigress, her cubs also have the same fate as her mother. Mostly they are rescued and kept in rescue centers but sometimes they cannot survive and lost their lives after their mother dies.
Who is responsible for the Human-Tiger Conflict?
It is quite easy to blame the animal or even forest department for the conflict situation but the actual responsibility lies with whom? Is it a villager going into his nearby forests to collect forest produce for his daily needs or is it deforestation, forest fragmentation, or linear intrusion in the corridor? Actually, the responsibility lies with everyone, all stakeholders are responsible, and even someone who is sitting in a faraway city also has some responsibility.
The habitat for the tigers is getting smaller and more highly fragmented day by day to support a healthy population of tigers. Once the corridors vanished, the different isolated populations does not meet and the interchange of genes does not happen which resulted in inbreeding and a weaker population. Genetic exchange is a natural phenomenon that is prevented by fragmentation. Tigers move to other areas from their natal area naturally but when there is no secure corridor they come into conflict.
Solution for the Human-Tiger Conflict:
Conflict management is a key issue and it is not only the responsibility of the forest department but all the stakeholders, like all government departments, civil societies, administration, conservation organizations, and ecotourism establishments are equally responsible within their area of operation. Famous tiger biologist Dr. Ullas Karanth is of the opinion that all problematic tigers should be removed from the area as soon as possible.
Problematic tigers give a bad name to the conservation effort. Relocation of the villages from critical tiger habitats is another important way to prevent conflict. Timely and right compensation is key to reducing the revenge killing by the villagers. In the case of human predation, financial compensation does not compensate for the loss suffered but timely and right compensation help to mitigate the hostility towards the tigers to some extent.
Also Read: Things to do when you encounter a Tiger