Three months since the capture of MDT23, a tiger believed to have been responsible for the deaths of at least two cattle grazers in Gudalur and the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR), the Forest Department is yet to come up with policies to manage grazing in the core and buffer areas of the reserve.
Over the last two years, three cattle herders have been killed in problematic interactions with tigers in the MTR. While the department has tolerated cattle grazing in the MTR buffer zone by local communities, recent reports from local residents living in the reserve indicate that people are also being allowed to graze their cattle in parts of the core area.
Local conservationists have for many years voiced concerns that allowing cattle grazing in tiger habitats could lead to a host of problems. “Cattle grazing could lead to an increase in problematic human-animal interactions, retaliation from people when their animals get preyed on by carnivores, spread of diseases such as foot and mouth disease and also competition for food to wildlife such as gaur, spotted deer and other herbivores,” said a conservationist from the Nilgiris.
However, another Nilgiris-based conservationist N.Mohanraj said, though cattle-grazing needed to be controlled within the reserve, recent studies suggestd that a regulated amount of grazing could be beneficial to the health of forest ecosystems and tiger reserves. “Some amount of grazing by cattle clears areas which can be used by other herbivores and prevents build-up of thick vegetation which will hinder their movement. However, there has to be a scientific approach to understanding the amount of grazing that can be allowed in the tiger reserve, and also how this can be allowed safely to prevent other issues from arising, such as problematic interactions between carnivores and humans,” he said.
When contacted, D. Venkatesh, Field Director of MTR, said the Forest Department was studying the issue to come up with solutions. “We are identifying the villages in the reserve that own large amounts of cattle and are trying to figure out whether Eco-Development Committees can be set up to provide alternative livelihoods to the grazers and gradually minimise grazing within the reserve,” he said.