No doubt India is home to about 70% of tigers in the world and tiger conservation in India is exemplary. Still the number of reports of tigers poached, involved in man-animal conflicts or turning into man-eaters is constant or perhaps increasing. Experts observe that tigers are not safe outside a national park and forest cover is rapidly decreasing, which increases the threats.
The Heyvan Times talks to Shardul Bajikar, Mumbai-based big cat expert who calls himself a naturalist on World Tiger Day about issues that have been neglected or under-addressed in the process of tiger conservation. “No doubt India’s tiger census has proved that we are leaders in tiger conservation. Kaziranga has the highest tiger density in the world–nine tigers per 100 square kilometres of forest, Bandipur range house five to six, whereas Ranthambore has five. But are we doing enough? There are many issues which should have been addressed simultaneously at least since the conservation showed positive results. Today, I am expecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce the government’s commitment towards saving the national animal. To begin with, the government and bureaucratic class should stop taking tigers as collaterals,” he said.
Recently, news reports claimed that union minister of transport and highways, Nitin Gadhkari, said that a poor country has to carefully spend public money, and has to decide whether to balance economic needs or protect the environment and wildlife. This was in response to a demand made by the Congress government in Kerala to build underpasses on the national highway between Mysuru and Wayanad to allow safe passage of tigers in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The federal government has built a nine-km long underpass in Pench in Madhya Pradesh for the same reason but it cost Rs 13000 crores, Gahdkari said.
Shardul says such remarks from the government shows how the lawmakers are still insensitive towards the animals in general. “Conservationists across the country are seeking cooperation from the state and central governments and if such insensitivity is deep seated in the minds of the bureaucratic class and lawmakers, how do we address by-products of deforestation? Reports of tigers involved in man-animal conflicts of becoming T-1 re nothing is increasing because of two reasons. One–the national parks have done very well in protecting the big cat and ensuring healthy breeding and survival of the young ones; as a result, the numbers have seen a huge rise like Ranthambore National Park and Bandipur and Nagarhole in Karnataka. These territorial animal then move out of the park premises and venture into the forest area. When they enter habitats primarily occupied by humans, and prey on cattle or large animals, they get involved in man-animal conflicts eventually. Secondly, reporting of incidents has increased more than earlier because sometimes, people think it is a conflict even if they spot a wild animal in their habitats. Still many cases are not reported because villagers living with wild animals in forests don’t report many cases,” he explained.
According to the 2014 Tiger census, India was home to 2,226 tigers, of which Karnataka housed the highest–408. In 2010, there were 1,706.
Conservationists also have been asking for wider expanses of protected areas and building landscapes for the wild like the Nilgiris range of forests. The Bandipur–Muddumalai–Kabini belt of the Nilgiris provides forest cover and large prey base for tigers which favours their natural habitats and conservation efforts. Landscaping involves many other aspects of conservation, primarily involving the most vulnerable villagers in the forest areas and livestock.
The Centre has to put in place certain systems to resolve man-animal conflicts as the resolution part is all about the human component and not the animal. Sensitising people is required so that they can minimise and handle distress calls. Shardul also explains how in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, volunteer teams spread out to create awareness among Mumbaikars if they see a leopard. “Simple things like keeping neighbourhoods litter-free so that community animals like dogs are not attracted to garbage heaps and not falling prey to leopards and not panicking when they see felines and act empathetic towards it, have improved the situation,” he says.
If such teams of volunteers can be created around forests to educate villagers how to handle wild animals venturing into their territory and report losses of livestock on a regular basis, conservation will be meaningful. Even empowering villagers to form teams to create awareness outside their boundaries is a productive solution for the economy. Although it is easier said than done for citizens who do not have to encounter wild animals as much as these villagers, thankfully cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi are passionate about wild animals and can be motivated to create volunteer groups and use their time to educate villagers and urbanites.
Shardul also emphasises on improving the status of the forest guard. “There is no alternative to ground patrolling even now. Drones and satellites cannot penetrate thick forests to see tigers which are primarily ground animals. Forest guards on the other hand have hands-on experience that counts even today. They are the primary units of conservation and their lives must be improved to give them their due and keep them motivated,” he says.
Feature Image : Mainak Ray