Two people were injured on Thursday when a tiger attacked villagers trying to photograph the big cat at the Ranthambhore national park in Rajasthan, officials said, highlighting the state’s struggle to contain rising incidents of man-animal conflict.
The tiger attack came within a week of another big cat killing a forest guard in the same reserve, prompting the forest department to recommend tagging it as a man-eater, irking wildlife activists.
Experts attribute the intensifying man-animal conflict to a gradual decline in space for wildlife due to relentless human incursion into forest areas and a lack of awareness about animals’ need for privacy.
The incident occurred on Thursday morning when villagers gathered near the park boundary on getting information that a tiger was roaming in the area with a cub, forest officials said.
“Despite warnings by guards, two people went close to a bush in an attempt photograph the tiger,” said YK Sahu, field director at Ranthambhore.
He said the disturbed tiger charged at the villagers, first injuring Satish Meena, 35, and then Kuldeep Swami, 24.
According to officials, a portion of Meena’s scalp peeled off in the attack and he was rushed to SMS Hospital in Jaipur, around 170 km away, where he would undergo skin grafting.
RN Mehrotra, a former head of the state forest department, said tigers are not known to attack humans “unless provoked”.
“Adverse change is taking place in behaviour of tigers because of uncontrolled tourists leading to stress among big cats. There is huge pressure on the peripheral areas of Ranthambhore which needs to be addressed at the earliest,” he said. Every year, more than 2.5 lakh tourists visit Ranthambhore, made a national park in 1980 and located around a fort declared as a Unesco world heritage site.
The Ranthambhore forest – home to exotic and endangered wildlife like sambhar, leopard, boar, wild pig and chital – has 55 tigers by the last count.
Dharmendra Khandal, conservation biologist with the Ranthambhore-based conservation body, Tiger Watch Foundation, also said there is an urgent need to “expand the area of the park so that tigers have more space” and added that people must learn to respect wildlife.
In the past decade, at least nine people have been killed by big cats in the state. In the same period, several tigers including cubs have been killed by people. Several leopards have also fallen prey to human attacks.
In 2004, Rajasthan earned a dubious distinction when it was discovered that all 24 tigers have vanished from Sariska tiger reserve, thought to have been killed by poachers. Since then, the reserve has regained some of its lost glory after relocation of eight tigers from Ranthambhore.