After poachers and encroaching humans, the tiger has a new nemesis — itself.
Of late, territorial fights among the big cats have emerged as the biggest threat to their dwindling populations in the Kanha and Pench National Parks in Madhya Pradesh. These clashes have claimed six tigers in the last three-and-a-half months. In some instances, the killings have been accompanied by cannibalism with the victor eating the carcass of the vanquished.
Forest officials and wildlife conservationists blame this conflict too on shrinking habitats and lack of space due to proliferation of tourist lodges and resorts.
According to Suhas Kumar, Chief Conservator of Forests, “Tigers move to new areas when their numbers exceed what a given habitat can sustain. But now, permanent constructions are blocking that option.”
“Tigers are territorial beings and need 10-12 square kilometers per specimen with a healthy prey base. The moment another male arrives on the scene, there’s competition. The dominant male either drives out the other one or kills it,” he said.
Other sources say a tiger needs a home range of as much as 60 sq km. That’s a lot of space that just isn’t available. According to the 2006 census, tiger density in these parks was 75-105 big cats in a 1,500 sq km area.
Kanha, spread across 960 sq km, has lost five tigers to infighting since January. It has around 70 resorts. In Pench, which has 15 resorts, a tiger mauled another on April 4.
The forest department has a plan to check the decline by turning tiger habitats into islands, cut off from other wild habitats. But Kumar said: “A free ranging species like the tiger can’t survive in an island.” He also said checks on proliferation of tourist amenities were needed.
For now, all the tiger can count on is its own innate ability to adapt easily.