The attack by a tiger on a forest guard leading to his death in Ranthambhore national park was not entirely because of the erratic behaviour of the big cat but may have been prompted by human interference, officials and experts say.
A group of women collecting firewood in the area had noticed the tiger, popularly known as Ustad, and rushed to inform the park staff posted at a nearby chowki, said official sources.
Though the park authorities are tightlipped over the background of the tiger attack, sources confirmed it was on the information of the women that the forest guard, Rampal Saini, 53, and three other people went to the spot. Saini was walking at some distance from the others. He went towards a bush to have a closer look when the tiger, known as T-24 in official parlance and considered the largest tiger in Ranthambhore, pounced on him and caught hold of his neck, said a senior official of the park management.
"There is excessive human activity in (the) territory of T-24. People visit a temple, a number of tourists and other vehicles ply on the road and a number of villagers enter the forest for firewood and grazing purpose. The animal often seems under stress," said the officer, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The incident has led to a tug-of-war between conservationists and the local tourism industry. While the conservationists are seeking no human interference in the forest, a section of the tourism industry in Ranthambhore is pressing for the shifting of the tiger, citing three more fatal attacks on humans by it.
After the incident, the park authorities shut down Zone 1, where T-24 roams and have also stopped people visiting the temple on foot.
According to sources, it is on the insistence of a section of the tourism industry that the forest department is writing to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to shift T-24 to captivity. But some in the fraternity are opposed to the move.
"This tiger is not a man-eater and there is no need to shift it. Tourists sighted him on Sunday evening and the animal did not show any aggression," said Salim Ali, a member of the Ranthambhore Nature Guides' Association.
Sunayan Sharma, president, Sariska Tiger Foundation, said the problem has risen because of excessive focus on tourism. "Forest is for animals. If humans disturb them and get hurt then who is at fault? A big cat cannot be reared as a dog," Sharma said.
"We have formed a committee to look into the matter. Any action will be taken following the committee report," said SN Singh, chief wildlife warden.
Overcrowding pushing big cats to peripheral areas
Ranthambhore has an area of 392 square kms which the government intends to increase to 1,100 square kms, for which 21 villages including 5,060 families have been identified for relocation, but so far only three villages have been relocated. The park houses about 55 tigers and the increasing number is leading to territorial struggles due to which some tigers mark territories in peripheral areas, where villages are located.
ST-6 had shown similar behaviour
A tiger T-7 had attacked a forest ranger Daulat Singh Shaktawat and injured him badly in August 2010. The incident occurred while tiger strayed near human habitation at Talda range and authorities tried to tranquilise it. Later, the tiger strayed towards Mathura and Bharatpur, from where he was shifted to Sariska tiger reserve in February 2011, where it is settled peacefully and is numbered ST-6. "It might have attacked humans, had it remained on peripheral areas in Ranthambhore. The problem is tigers getting lesser space," Sharma said.