The death of two tigers due to poisoning in the Nagarahole National Park — one in D.B. Kuppe in January and another in Metikuppe a few days ago — raises many a question over the safety of the big cats. The incidents have certainly sent shock waves among conservationists, the Forest Department and animal lovers. Assurances from the State Forest Cell authorities that provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Code for Criminal Procedure would have to be invoked to deal with the culprits may be all right, but they wouldn’t compensate for the loss of precious lives.

Tigers have also been in the news for straying into human habitations located on the fringes of the park. One was captured by the Forest Department and another snagged in a barbed wire fence in a fringe village in Kodagu district and saved later. This has raised many questions about the need to tighten conservation measures. People living in the fringes of forests live in fear as tigers have accounted for the killing of several heads of cattle and pigs in the villages and feel they could be a potential threat to humans as well.

Two theories

Is it because the tiger population has gone up that they stray into human habitats or they sneaked in to catch easy prey (such as cattle and pigs) as they are too old to go for the kill in the wild? Both theories gain credence. ‘There are 10 to 12 tigers in every 100 sq. km. area of the tiger reserves such as Nagarahole, Bandipur, BRT, parts of Wayanad, and Mudumalai covering around 2,500 sq. km.,” said B.J. Hosmath, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Field Director, Project Tiger.

The tiger population is improving but no one can give specific statistics, he says. Increase in population could be one of the reasons for them straying, another senior Forest Officer in the Nagarahole Division, who was involved in the capture of a four-year-old tigress at Nalkeri village in Kodagu district in November last, said.

Praveen Bhargav, Managing Trustee of Wildlife First, concurs with Mr. Hosmath, saying one cannot generalise the tiger population. Parts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala were excellent habitats for tiger breeding and conservation where the ‘meta-population’ is found, he adds. Over 6,000 sq. km. of contiguous forest landscape had immense potential for survival of the tiger population. The landscape is not like isolated patches such as Sariska, Panna or Ranthambore where tigers were vulnerable to poaching.

He advocates the need for the three southern States to coordinate efforts to save the contiguous landscape, adding the governments have money and there is support from the people, media and to some extent elected representatives in the conservation effort. An eternal vigilance was needed to guard the tiger landscape by using the local community as the second line of defence to save tigers, Mr. Bhargav stated.

Mr. Hosmath adds that Karnataka was the first State in India to set up a special tiger protection force with the help of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). As many as three platoons were working.

Eighteen tigers have died of various reasons in the Bandipur, Nagarahole and BRT Tiger Reserves since 2010-11 to 2012-13 so far. Of this nine have died in Bandipur, eight in Nagarahole and one in BRT. The reasons could not be identified since the carcasses were putrefied. Three died of poisoning, two due to strangulation by metallic wires and a couple due to suspected infighting. Significantly, no poaching case was reported in the same period.

Tribal relocation

The friction between the protagonists and antagonists with regard to the tribal relocation issue continues in the State. Nearly 300 families from the Nagarahole National Park (both Mysore and Kodagu districts) have moved out, but their current state is deplorable, said J.P. Raju, president of the Kodagu Budakattu Krishikara Sangha, an organisation working for the welfare of tribal people in the park.

The relocation process had not helped the man-tiger conflict, he says, referring to the ‘critical tiger habitat’ proposal being implemented by the Forest Department.

Cash and land grants were given to the tribal people initially at Veeranahosalli, but many of them had leased out land to others to cultivate them. The relocated tribal people went to Kodagu coffee plantations for work. Men worked for a wage of Rs. 200 per day while women got Rs. 150. The vehicles of plantation owners pick them up and drop them back at their houses after work. There were private jeep operators doing that job as well. Will this serve the purpose of rehabilitation, Mr. Raju asks.

Mr. Hosmath said that there were still 1,500 families waiting to be relocated from the park and forests voluntarily, ruling out forcible relocations. The NTCA had released funds and about 150 families could opt for moving out soon, he said.

His statements found support when Mr. Bhargav asked whether the over Rs.40,000 crore spent on the welfare of the tribal people by various agencies, including the Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP), had helped any adivasi to improve his social status so far. Conceding forest rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act applied differently in the reserve forests and national parks, he said. However, there is a demand from the tribal people for resettlement which should be addressed first, Mr. Bhargav observed. The issue of relocation of the adivasis settled on the forest fringes might not arise, he said.

Buffer zone

He sought to allay fears that the buffer zone concept was different from the eco-sensitive zone. The former included the forests and government land whereas the latter would not mean land acquisitions as feared by many.

The stipulations would not affect the ongoing agriculture operations including coffee plantations, petty shops and the like. Mr. Bhargav ruled out curbs stating that the eco-sensitive zone provisions helped the community by preventing mining activities, hydel power projects and polluting industries from coming in. It would only ensure ecologically compatible activities, he clarified.

But how would one react to the titles already granted to the tribal people as per the Act? In Mysore district, of the 5,387 individual applications received from the tribals and others, as many as 555 were regularised. A total of 4,832 were rejected for various reasons.

And, of the total 107 applications received seeking community rights, as many as 19 were regularised in the district. In Kodagu, more than 3,000 individual applications and nearly 50 community rights applications have been cleared by the district-level committee headed by the Deputy Commissioner.

K. Jeevan Chinnappa

Experts see the need for tightening tiger conservation measures