The distressing incident of a tiger killing a farmer and devouring part of the cadaver in Maharashtra's Yavatmal district highlights the need for scientific efforts to reduce conflicts between people and wild animals. Encounters between tigers and humans are likely to occur in less than one per cent of the country's geographical area today. Tiger numbers have dwindled because they were hunted down either as dangerous vermin that stood in the way of expansion of agriculture or as prized trophies. In spite of legal protection, poaching remains a threat. Also, habitat capable of supporting the large cats has shrunk and become increasingly fragmented. Yet some communities living close to forests face conflicts. It is important to understand that man-eating is not a widespread phenomenon, and the species generally avoids human encounters. Some tigers do get involved in opportunistic attacks and may begin stalking humans as normal prey. Man-eating is more common in the Sunderbans, where such attacks are often by more than one tiger. The answer to this human-tiger conflict lies in good conservation science and in mitigation measures that help people co-exist with the carnivores at the landscape level.

To many scientists, the most effective interventions to achieve a reduction in attacks by tigers are those designed to eliminate human pressures on the habitat. Relocation of people from tiger territory with handsome compensatory packages is a superior alternative to crisis management techniques that invariably follow attacks. Problems in voluntary relocation such as lack of alternative land, corruption, and cultural factors do persist, but suitable incentives can persuade more forest residents to move out. It may still be necessary to use lethal methods to remove some problem tigers in order to avoid widespread retaliatory actions by villagers. Protective fencing of habitations is sometimes advocated, but as studies by independent and Project Tiger researchers show, encounters take place mostly in free-ranging situations, particularly in forests where villagers graze livestock. All this makes it clear that it is vital to maintain a strong prey base within the habitat. This can ensure that wild tigers do not seek out cattle. Connectivity between forest fragments free of habitations also needs to be ensured. India now has far fewer tigers than leopards. Unlike the spotted cats, they do not adapt themselves well to the presence of humans nearby. Both species are involved in conflicts, but tigers are less resilient. Creating wider undisturbed habitat will benefit both.

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