Devika Devi became the 25th victim to a deadly tiger attack in India in Sunderkhal village near Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve in the last 13 months, which also left eight tigers dead.
At the same time, wildlife experts suggest that increase in tiger population, caused by India’s success in tiger management and checking poaching, may have a link to this increasing tiger-human conflict.
Between 2006 and 2010, the tiger population is estimated to increase by atleast 100 from 1,411. The new tiger estimation will be announced on March 26.
“Increase in tiger population in areas such as Corbett is one of the reasons for the rising conflict,” said Vivek Menon, Chief Executive Officer of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). Other experts such as Belinda Wright of Wildlife Protection Society of India term poaching of prey population and increase in human interference as primary causes for increase in conflict.
2009: Six, two in Madhya Pradesh, two in Assam and one each in UttarPradesh and Maharashtra.
2010: Eight, three in Rajasthan, two in Assam, one each in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
While tiger population has increased, the habitat during these four years has either remained stagnant or shrunk.
“At least 10 new hotels and resorts have come up in the buffer zone of Corbett in the last few years with the permission of district collector,” said a local forest official.
Over 700 kms south-west of Corbett in Ranthambore tiger reserve, the increase in tiger population has not only left three persons dead and another dozen injured in the past year, it has caused migration of at least four tigers to far-off places. Tigers using traditional forest corridors, which were dense forests till 1970s, reached Kuno and Morina in Madhya Pradesh and Kota and Bharatpur in Rahasthan.
“Constant habitat destruction and illegal mining is causing the wildlife stress,” Dharmendra Kandhal, a Ranthambore based wildlife biologist said. Another indication of this is that two tigress and five cubs have been spotted outside the core area of Ranthambore, having about 25 tigers.
Nothing illegal in these activities, but a cause of concern for wildlife experts that it was hindering free movement of tigers. For instance, Uttarakhand forest department have pictures of 36 tigers in two ranges divided by river Kosi and connected by a corridor where resorts and Sunderkhal village has come up, leading to increase in conflict.
“Very few tigers used to seen in this area a few years ago,” said Anil Baluni, vice-chairperson of Uttarankhand Forest Advisory Council.
Dhonia Devi, who lost her niece in the tiger attack in January 2011, confirmed higher tiger presence and said: "Since last few months I hear tiger roar almost every last night…We shut ourselves before dark to escape their fury".
2009: 12 deaths.
2010-2011 till end of January: 25 deaths. Ten in Uttar Pradesh, one in Rajasthan, eight in Maharashtra, one in Assam and five in Uttaranchal.
Most tiger reserves, where tiger-animal conflict has been reported in the past year, have reported increase in big cat population.
The Wildlife Institute of India, which is conducting the estimation, has captured pictures of 12 tigresses with cubs in Dudwa tiger reserve in Uttar Pradesh, where a tiger killed two persons. In Tadoba-Andhari tiger reserve in Maharashtra, where six people had died in conflict, two tigresses with cubs have been spotted in the buffer area. Kaziranga, Assam, where increase in tiger population has earned the forest distinction of having highest tiger density per 10 sq kms in the country, is not different.
The conflict is unique to tigers as they are territorial animals unlike other carnivores. “A 10 sq km area is normally territory marked by a tiger, where only the stronger male can live,” said P K Sen, former director of Project Tiger. As the population grows, the weaker tigers move out and spread into buffer areas, encroached by human settlements or tourist industry, resulting in the conflict.
Nationally, the core tiger area has shrunk to 31,207 sq kilometers in 37 tiger reserves as compared to over one lakh sq kms in 1970s, when Project Tiger was launched. “To have 20 breeding tigresses a minimum area of 800-1,200 sq kms needs to be kept inviolate as a core area for tigers with an exclusive tiger agenda,” said Rajesh Gopal, member secretary of National Tiger Conservation Authority, in its journal stripes.
It means that many tiger reserves such as Ranthambore, Corbett, Kaziranga and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh may have reached its threshold limit with estimated increase in population with some check on poaching.
One possible solution to the increasing tiger problem – relocation of tigers straying out – has been successfully implemented in Assam, where a man-eating tiger from Kaziranga has been successfully rehabilitated in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary.
“If done scientifically such relocation is possible elsewhere,” Menon said.
The NCTA and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has identified 15 new forest areas across India to provide homes to tigers living in stress. “Tigers need inviolate space which is available in India,” said Ravi Chellam of Wildlife Conservation Society, which recently did found that 15 tiger reserves can hold 1,500 tigers if the habitat is improved. These emerging tiger issues will be discussed with international experts in Delhi on March 7.
Frightened by frequent tiger attacks, over 1,000 people are willing to leave their abode in Sunderkhal since 1974 provided the compensation is good, they get agriculture land and jobs.