‘Movement of tigers outside protected areas to blame for 26 human deaths’
Maharashtra reported 26 human deaths attributed to tiger attacks in 2019, the highest in the country. According to data tabled before Rajya Sabha by the Union environment ministry on Tuesday, Maharashtra accounted for nearly half of the 49 human deaths in the country due to tiger attacks last year.
India’s tiger numbers have been growing. The All India Tiger Estimation results, released in July 2019, recorded 2,967 individuals (75% of the world population) with numbers rising at an annual rate of 6% since 2006. Maharashtra has 312 tigers as per the latest estimate.
Madhya Pradesh (MP), Karnataka and Uttarakhand have more tigers than Maharashtra, but have reported fewer deaths attributed to tiger attacks in 2019, with MP reporting only one, according to the Union environment ministry’s data. Maharashtra reported 26 of the total 49 human deaths due to tiger attacks last year.
Forest officials said killings by tigers were high in Maharashtra due to high dispersal rate of tigers outside protected areas combined with development pressures in forest fringes leading to conflict with humans.
Maximum deaths reported in 2019 were from Chandrapur circle (divided into Chandrapur, central Chanda and Bramhapuri divisons) in eastern Maharashtra spread across over 5,000 sq. km forest areas, said Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife).
“Conflict is currently an extremely serious issue,” said Kakodkar. “Chandrapur alone is carrying 160 of 312 tigers in the state. Combined with this, the fragmented nature of forests in Bramhapuri and central Chanda is leading to high conflict. Development pressures also add to this.”
Anup Nayak, member-secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) said, “The number of dispersing tigers moving into newer territories is much higher [in Maharashtra] as compared to other states, resulting in conflict near human-dominated zones. However, the 10-year monitoring and dispersal project with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, will make a major difference.”
The most deaths reported in 2019 were from the Chandrapur circle, in eastern Maharashtra, said Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife). “Chandrapur alone carries 160 of 312 tigers in the state. Combined with this, the fragmented nature of forests in Bramhapuri and central Chanda is leading to high conflict. Development pressures also add to this,” said Kakodkar.
The number of killings by tigers in the state had declined from 19 in 2016 to seven in 2017 and two in 2018 (see box). Between 2014 and 2019, Maharashtra and West Bengal accounted for maximum number of deaths due to tiger attacks – 74 each – between 2014 and 2019.
To reduce man-animal conflict, the state is carrying out a multi-pronged strategy, said Kakodkar. First, tiger movement is closely monitored with warnings issued to residents whenever necessary. Second, tigers involved in repeated conflict incidents (depending on the type of kill, location, and frequency in the human-dominated landscape) are captured. The state also promotes the safe dispersal of tigers and protection of wildlife corridors. Finally, the state is installing solar-powered fences and chain-link fencing as well as implementing Central schemes to provide liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to households so that locals need not enter forests for firewood. “Overall we have to ensure that the corridors are maintained,” said Kakodkar.