India’s success in saving the tiger from extinction has put the big cats in a different kind of peril: overcrowding in habitats.
Latest data released by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) shows that top 12 tiger reserves reporting highest tiger population in 2014 were becoming cramped homes for the big cats, leading to an increase in human-tiger conflict and chances of infanticide, with survival rate of cubs less than 1.5 years being just 40%.
As many as 72 people were killed by tigers between 2012-13 and 2014-15, 30% up from the previous three years, data submitted in Parliament showed.
During the same period, over 100 tigers were killed by people as they ventured out of their zones, killing cattle and attacking people.
The 2014 tiger census also showed that around 40% of 2,226 tigers in India were outside the core as compared to 30% of the 1,411 tigers estimated in 2006. Being territorial animals, tigers mark an area of 70-100 sq km as their boundary, pushing weaker and older felines out of the more-protected core.
The following graphs show how the tiger population increased while average tiger territory reduced in size.
The most densely populated Corbett has only 6 sq km area for a big cat.15 times lesser than what is suggested by WII.
Similarly, Bandipur in Karnataka has 12.13 sq km for each of its 120 tigers and Kazirang a in Assam 11.39 sqkm for each of its 103 tigers.
“How the tigers are surviving in cramped spaces is actually a topic of research. Tigers in highly populated reserves are not collared and therefore, it’s a mystery how the species is adapting to smaller spaces,” Bilal Habib, scientist at Wildlife Institute of India said.
K Shankar, director of Coimbatore based Salim Ali Centre for Ornitholohy and Natural History (SACON), said inf anticide has been re por ted from some tig er reserves such as Kanha in Madhya Pradesh.
Exper ts, however, agree that the best way forward is to improve conditions of buffer zones which can easily accommodate the growing number of tigers and reactivate the green corridors linking one tiger habitat with another.
Experts claim high tiger population in limited areas lead to conflict, overlapping of tiger habitat and also infanticide.
That’s why tiger cubs below 1.5 years have as low as 40% survival chances in wild and WII do not include them during the estimation done every four years.