Stripes in peril
The ill-poised fate of the inhabitants of the central Indian forests due to human-animal conflict.
On my return to Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) early in December 2018, I learnt that one of Chhoti Tara’s sub adult cubs had been electrocuted in a village called Bhamdheli in the district of Chandrapur, Maharashtra, India. It was a pity as this young male was destined for greatness. The blood of the famous Matkasur ran through his veins and he was on his way to become of the biggest males to have ever set paw in Tadoba.
I had been very lucky to have spotted this young male a season earlier, alongside his sibling and his mother, basking in the sun after having feasted on a Chital deer kill. To have met with such a premature death was truly unfortunate. But to us – human beings who, unlike other living creatures, have the ability to look back at situations and trace the chain of cause and effect till its root, I ask whether this mishap could have been avoided?
The two year old cub had been electrocuted while crossing a fence in one of the fields. Despite the government laws forbidding farmers to use electric fences, farmers continue to do so to protect their family and their cattle. Was the tiger at fault to have ventured “outside the forest” or are the villagers to blame?
The matter is a sensitive and complicated one. And before we judge too soon and impatiently jump to conclusions, – for our mind is an instrument habituated to stick labels to incidents and pack them into large compartments of “good” and bad” and “right” and “wrong”-, it is important to take a step back and view things in the right light. Only then can we hope to find a justifiable answer and develop our opinions on the matter.
In the last decade, Tadoba’s tiger population has been on the rise because of sustained efforts by the forest department and the ample prey base that the forest naturally provides. Tigers are independent felines, known to live individually and needing a large territory for themselves. With their numbers rising steadily and the forest area shrinking because of illegal human settlement and the setting up of coal mines, tigers are bound to indulge in territorial warfare.
Moreover, to claim a domain for themselves, tigers will search for other parts of the forest and often inevitably move away from the core area and come into the buffer area – much closer to human habitation. This would result in more frequent human-animal conflicts.
To avoid such issues, the forest department and the government have taken the initiatives of resettling villages outside the protected areas of the forest. Occasionally, villagers are infuriated and resist these alternatives. But we must put ourselves in their shoes and see things from their point of view. And if we do so, we would come to realize that they do not understand why it is important to save our striped cats. They have not studied Darwin and they are ignorant of the fact that “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change”. Today, man, or human beings are the strongest and the most intelligent of species, but we are also the ones that are causing the change and we do not understand that consequentially, we will be the ones forced to adapt to it. To the villagers, it would only seem that the government is giving more importance to the beasts that kill their kine over themselves.
The tigers obviously do not know the boundaries of the jungle. They are slaves to their instincts and caprices and will go wherever they feel safe. To prevent them from approaching the villages at the peripheries of the forest, the forest department could consider opening up the gates of adjoining central Indian forests that are spread across two or more states. This way the tigers could find their way internally and move about freely, without having to venture out and encounter human beings.
This is of course easier said than done. The poachers always have their eyes set on tigers that are shy or are moving about in secluded parts of the forest in search of a home. These tigers become easy victims because they are not spotted often. Tourists are attracted to bolder tigers that show themselves more regularly. Also, most tourists seek to book their safaris in a core area, leaving the buffers rather unfrequented and providing the perfect hide-out for poachers to go about their business. Gateways and corridors connecting forests must be protected; else they too would become poacher haunts.
As long as tigers are subject to these pervasive threats, their fate remains ill-poised, and their future balances precariously on a razor’s edge. But despite all odds, Tadoba has taken the initiative to open five new gates to boost eco-tourism in their buffer zones.
Apart from the already existing seven buffers that include Agarzari, Adegaon-Dewada, Kolara, Junona, Madnapur, Alizanjha, Navegaon, the new gates are located at Mamla, Doni, Pangdi, Pahami and Ramdegi.
The advantages of this initiative are manifold:
- Safaris in buffer areas are cheaper and gypsies can back track and reverse freely in the case of a sighting (unlike in most core areas).
- The legendary Wagdoh – the oldest tiger in Tadoba, Madhuri – the supermom of Tadoba, who has given birth to 19 cubs since 2010, and pretty tigresses such as Junabai and Jharni have all made buffers their new home. They attract tourism and take some load off the core areas.
- Because more tourists visit the buffer areas, it reduces the chance of illegal activities such as poaching and bamboo cutting in those areas.
- And it is economically healthy overall.
Tadoba’s buffer zones thrive because of the frequent sighting of tigers often nurturing and frolicking about with their cubs and other animals such as the blue bull. Moreover, the forest is always bustling and one can expect to spot a stripped feline within the first ten minutes of a safari. Should the neighboring states and national parks follow Tadoba’s example and take up similar initiatives to safeguard the lifestyle and survival of our national animal?