Discontent against Forest Department grows
People living on the fringes of Bandipur forests are observing a self-imposed curfew from dusk to dawn, following the death of four persons in tiger attacks in a span of one week in the Bandipur-Nagarahole belt.
Many women have stopped going out for works in fields while men no longer guard the field at night or venture out of after sunset owing to the fear of the H.D. Kote man-eater, which is suspected to be responsible for three of the four deaths. The death of a Forest Department employee in the adjoining Nagarahole National Park is attributed to a different tiger.
“I was born and brought up on the fringes of forests, and we are undergoing such a terrifying experience for the first time in our life,” said Nandishwaraswamy, a native of Chikkabargi, the last village abutting Bandipur Tiger Reserve. “We can live with elephants marauding our crops; the herd can be scared away, or we can move out of its path. But a tiger is rarely seen and attacks stealthily, hence the fear,” said Nandishwaraswamy.
The serpentine road from Sargur (in Heggadadevana Kote taluk) to Chikkabargi — which is the last human settlement before the core area commences — is about 30 km. But the treacherous terrain and the dirt track makes it almost inaccessible. Agriculture is the only occupation in the entire region and the bulk of the people work as daily labourers in agricultural fields in the surrounding villages.
But after the tiger attacks last week, a lot of women have stopped venturing out. The death of Basappa has only intensified the fear among the villagers. However, for Devamma and Soumya of the adjoining Kadu Beguru, there is no choice. “The fear of tiger is definitely high there but the only alternative to work is starvation. Hence we are going out in search of work,” they told this correspondent en route to Chikkabargi.
“Farmers keeping watch over the agricultural fields at night is a routine event in villages, but this has become a misadventure in present times,” said Nagalingappa of Chikkabargi. “We used to guard the crops from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to ward off wild boars and elephants but since the last few days, nobody has been coming out,” he added.
The simmering discontent of the local community against the Forest Department was evident. Their anger was against the ban imposed on cattle-grazing inside the national parks as domestic animals are carriers of foot and mouth disease and could prove detrimental to the wildlife; but for the people living on the fringes of the forests confronting economic problems, wildlife conservation is a vague sentiment and they perceive tough measures by forest department as undue harassment.
“We have been prevented from letting our cattle graze inside the forests since the last two years. When domestic animals used to graze inside the forests, there were no such incidents of tigers preying on human beings. With the ban firmly enforced on cattle grazing, animals like tigers and leopards have started frequenting the villages. They impose fines on us if our cattle are found in the forests. Let them compensate us for the loss we suffer because of wildlife,” was the general refrain of the local community.
This underlines the growing chasm between the villages on the fringes of the forests and the authorities, which could be detrimental to wildlife conservation in the long run.