Sariska tigers’ preference for cattle over wild prey poses danger to big cats
- The human population residing in the villages inside the Sariska reserve is over 1700 and the livestock population is more than 10 thousand, mainly buffaloes and goats.
A recently published research has concluded that the tigers in Rajasthan’s Sariska wildlife sanctuary preferred to hunt cattle over wild animals as their prey. The state officials have termed it a worrying development which could threaten the big cat population in the reserve.
The worrying findings were the result of a scientific study to analyze the dietary patterns of tigers and leopards, reintroduced into the wild at the Sariska Tiger Reserve (STR), conducted jointly by Govind Sagar Bhardwaj-- former field director of STR and the member secretary of the pollution board-- and Hemant Shekhawat, former deputy field director of STR.
The study, conducted between 2016 and 2018 and published recently, highlighted some alarming facts including very high anthropogenic pressure in the reserve, leading to drastic dietary changes among the big cats, when compared to previous such studies.
Among the reported tiger kills, 77% were livestock, especially buffaloes, which is a manifold increase over 10.4% a decade ago and 19.4% in 2012. This has led to an increasing number of human-wildlife conflicts, which induced further resentment among the local communities, further denting both law and order and conservation efforts in Sariska. The diet of Leopards also consisted of an alarming proportion of 84.2% livestock prey as compared to 7.1% in 2012.
As per the survey, a meagre 548 sq km of actual inviolate area is available for tigers out of the total 1213 sq km area of STR due to immense anthropogenic pressure. Around 175 villages are located in and around STR, out of which 26 are lying within the critical tiger habitat.
The human population residing in the villages inside the reserve is over 1700 and the livestock population is more than 10 thousand, mainly buffaloes and goats. Apart from this, there is a large human and cattle population in villages around STR. Villagers often take their livestock to graze and drink water well within the reserve.
Leopards, on the other hand, being smaller in size prefer smaller prey, and their natural primary diet is Cheetals. When tigers were poached out of STR around 2005, leopards occupied the core areas within the reserve but after the tigers were reintroduced and their population flourished, leopards were pushed to the peripheral areas of the reserve.
The change in the dwelling areas resulted in them preying on smaller livestock like goats and buffalo fawns, available in the peripheral villages. Their diet included an overwhelming 84.2% livestock as compared to 7.1% in 2012, as per the study.
Sariska had lost all its Tigers to poaching in 2004-05. Tigers were brought to the STR from Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in world's first Tiger reintroduction program in 2008. However, owing to high anthropogenic pressure, the tiger population at Sariska did not flourish till 2012. Currently, Sariska is home to 22 tigers including 11 adults, 5 sub adults and 6 cubs.
Attacks from tigers and leopards are often met with violent retaliation by the village folks. Killing of their livestock results in serious outrage and unrest among local communities, which induces human attacks against the big cats.
The first ever reintroduced Tiger, the male ST-1, was poisoned by the villagers, in 2010. In 2018, tigress ST-5 went missing and a young male ST-11 got strangled in a wire snare.
Lately, retaliatory killings have become an even bigger threat than poaching to the already sparse tiger population in the reserve. In 2017-18, seven people were killed by leopards in the nearby villages and an angry mob not only manhandled the staffers of the STR but also burnt a leopard alive at Madhavgarh area near Sariska.
A leopard was found dead as recently as last week in Tehla range and unconfirmed reports suggested that it was poisoned from a goat carcass. Village relocation and effective law enforcement in STR are the only viable solutions which can prevent the depletion of the big cat population in the reserve.