The rare case of a tiger mauling a man to death in H.D. Kote taluk on Wednesday has triggered fears that the increase in man-animal conflict was likely to turn public sentiments against wildlife conservation.

This is particularly true in villages bordering Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks,, where three to five lakh people live within a radius of 5 km of the forest boundaries.

Though the Forest Department has pointed out that only one human death has been reported in Bandipur this year, wildlife activists say about 20 to 25 people have died in the Bandipur-Nagarahole belt since 2008-09.

A wildlife conservationist pointed out that habitat degradation as a direct consequence of uncontrolled grazing of domestic cattle inside the forests was one of the contributory factors for the conflict.

There are more than 2 to 2.5 lakh domestic cattle and about three lakh people spread over 146 villages on the borders of Bandipur.

Likewise, there are about 96 villages within a radius of 3 km from the borders of Nagarahole and about 200 villages within a radius of 5 km from the forest boundary with nearly three lakh domestic animals.

The conservationist, who did not wish to be named, told The Hindu that unbridled grazing since decades have brought both domestic cattle and wildlife into continuous contact over the years.

When hundreds of domestic animals graze inside forests regularly, they emerge as direct competitors to prey animals such as spotted deer in the jungles for natural fodder and abandon the habitat in search of greener pasture.

“This has a direct impact on carnivore animals such as leopards and tigers who take to preying on domestic animals, which can be hunted down without any effort,” he added.

However, Conservator of Forests and Director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, H.C. Kantharaj, claimed that protection measures around the forests have significantly reduced grazing by domestic cattle in forests.

But, others averred grazing was high in Maddur, Hediyala, N. Begur, and Omkara range of Bandipur.

Sanjay Gubbi, a wildlife biologist drew attention to the socio-political and economic ramifications arising out of such conflict.

He told this correspondent that “human-wildlife conflict is one of the most important reasons for dwindling support of local communities for wildlife conservation. This loss of support is reflected in decreased political will for wildlife protection, as political circles are guided by public opinion and sentiments.”

Though the Forest Department has taken up certain initiatives such as encouraging the local community with government subsidy to switch over to stall feeding and cultivate grass on small plots, it is on a small scale and will have to be scaled up to make a difference or curb the entry of domestic cattle inside the forests.