Monday, February 14, 2011

India's Growing Tiger Population Leading to Rise in Man-Tiger Conflicts

A tiger in Ranthambore National Park

In India, the tiger is the undisputed heavyweight champion of all powerful predators. Its immense size, strength, and beauty have made it a perfectly designed killing machine all over the subcontinent. Since 1973, the tiger has been India's national animal after the lion. However, being an apex predator is never easy. The tiger has since and still is being illegally hunted for its skin, bones, and other body parts which some people believe contain supernatural powers to cure various illnesses. In addition to that, it has faced persecution for preying on domestic livestock and even people. However, in spite of these life-threatening situations, the tiger has been protected. But conservation efforts to protect this almighty ruler of India seems to be facing an uncertain future. In places like the Corbett National Park, experts suggested that the success in tiger management and keeping watch for poaching have contributed to the increase in the animals' population which in turn led to rise in man-tiger conflicts. Other experts such as Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India stated that poaching of prey populations and increased human interference are the primary causes for the increase of such situations. In addition to that, the tigers' habitat has either shrunk or remained stagnant during these four years. According to one forest official, ten new hotels and resorts had been in Corbett's buffer zone in the last few years.

Another national park that has witnessed an increase in man-tiger conflicts is Ranthambore in Rajasthan, where three people had been killed and another dozen injured in the past year. But conflicts were not the only problem. The increase in tiger population has also led to four tigers migrating outside the park. Dharmendra Kandhal, a Ranthambore-based wildlife biologist, stated that constant habitat destruction and illegal mining is causing stress to the local wildlife. Another similar situation was witnessed by the Uttarakhand forest department, in which 36 tigers were spotted in two ranges divided by the Kosi River and joined by a corridor where resorts and the Sunderkhal village have come up. In January 2011, a villager named Dhonia Devi had lost her niece Devika to a tiger attack in that particular location. Such conflicts are unique, as tigers tend to be territorial animals. P.K Sen, a former director of Project Tiger, stated that a typical tiger territory covers an area of ten square kilometers. Most of these territories are occupied by stronger tigers. As the population grows, the weaker individuals spread into buffer areas which are prone to either human settlements or the tourist industry thus resulting in a conflict. At a national level, the core tiger area has shrunk from over one lakh in the 1970s to 31,207 square kilometers in 37 tiger reserves. This means that tiger reserves such as Bandhavgarh, Corbett, Kaziranga, and Ranthambore may have reached their limit with increase in their tiger populations and some check on poaching.

I have a deep feeling that a great deal attention should be focused on managing India's tiger population in which both people and tigers will be kept safe from each other. One possible solution mentioned in this article is relocation of those tigers who venture outside the parks' boundaries. An example of this particular solution was seen Kaziranga where a man-eating tiger was successfully rehabilitated to Manas National Park. But I also feel that the staff of those national parks experiencing the rise in their tiger populations should reconsider their plans of establishing hotel resorts. That is, they should not build more buildings in the buffer areas which could lead to further conflicts between tigers people. In fact, I strongly believe that the Corbett National Park staff should have the resorts standing in the buffer zone demolished if they are to prevent any more of these dangerous encounters. In addition to that, villagers living within these zones should somehow be encouraged to move to a safe place if they happen to find themselves in a vulnerable spot. The villagers of the Sunderkhal village have been willing to abandon their village since 1974, provided they receive fair compensation. Furthermore, habitat destruction and illegal mining should be heavily monitored along with poaching. As of now, the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife Institute of India have identified fifteen new forest areas across India that could provide home to tigers living in stress. These areas and the tiger issues will be discussed by international experts on the 7th of March in Delhi. I sure hope that during that meeting, some solution(s) will come up regarding India's current tiger population.

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