There are a growing number of man-killers and man-eaters (tigers or leopards) in India. This fatal conflict between animals and human beings is a result of incessant encroachment into wildlife habitats and their endless exploitation. This has happened because of poor governance and the inability of the forest bureaucracy to find ways to minimise such conflicts through engaging local communities into a new framework of wildlife governance.
Poor research and science, ineffective field management and excessive interference by field managers into the natural cycles of wild animals have only added fuel into this fire. We will soon, without reform and correctives, enter an era where this kind of conflict will become the norm than an exception. So, we need to be prepared and do some sensible thinking to resolve them.
I welcome the judgment by the Uttarakhand High Court that prevents the killing of these animals and instead encourages their removal by tranquilisation. The judgment also prevents the government from engaging private hunters from killing such animals and this is also a welcome step as some of these hunters have created havoc around our forests. Today with new and innovative drugs, tranquiliser guns are easy to use and have a high success rate in capturing problem animals. We just need better training and a forest department fully equipped to deal with this problem.
However, we must be clear about some important issues. Man-killer tigers and leopards are normal animals that can accidently kill a human, especially when the confrontation is a surprise for both. The animal does not eat the person it kills. Normally it runs away. In such situations these animals need to be carefully monitored, but left to lead their normal lives.
Man-eaters are animals that kill and eat man. They learn that man is prey and food. They need to be plucked out and placed in captive enclosures. They cannot be placed in any other forest as this unpredictable tendency to kill can cause much damage and injury for locals and forest staff. The tiger T24 from Ranthambhore was given three chances before he was moved out. This was a serious error and three human lives were lost because of it, including two forest guards. We need to be clear about how we act in such crisis situations. Man-eaters are a reality today. Let us never forget that.
There is also a third category. Big cats stray into human habitation from nearby forests that have been degraded. Leopards are doing this around Delhi. Even lions in Gir do this regularly. If such animals cause problems, and again this happens because of the fear in the animal that leads to panic because they get chased and beaten by human beings who know no better, then these animals have to be plucked out also.
So what are we going to do with all these problem animals?
Very clearly man-eaters and strays cannot be parachuted into new forests. Man-eaters can kill again and the strays will probably be killed by the resident cats of those forests. So this “transfer of a problem” to another forest is not the solution, and both legally and administratively we must refrain from propagating it.
In my opinion there is only one way. And our court judgments must take their rulings one step further. Across India create at least six areas with large captive enclosures that can receive such animals. These parks will be for both man-eaters and strays that get lost and become problematic.
These parks in six regions require the carefully texted story of the individual in the enclosure so that it educates all those who must come and see the enormous problems that we as humans have caused our big cats. All these cats in each region will be for public display and it is important for our courts to convey this to any authority that thinks differently.
Millions will come to see these animals and entry ticket money can go back to those troubled regions to mitigate man-cat conflict. These will be like enormous educational centres that highlight the problem and the solution and collect revenue for sensible field action. They must be outsourced and away from the forest department.
Valmik Thapar is the author of 30 books on Indian wildlife including Living With Tigers, his latest
The views expressed are personal