On most days, before the sun breaks through the thick morning mist, the Forest Department’s four-member team of animal trackers sets out to locate raiding tigers that threaten human settlements inside Wayanad wildlife sanctuary.
There are 96 human settlements in the 354 sq km sanctuary and foraying tigers have been creating a scare in the region.
Last year alone, two persons were killed in tiger attacks in Wayanad. Lone tigers were sighted in human areas 18 times and nearly a score of cattle were reported lost to them.
M.J. Raghavan, the 45-year-old head tracker, says tiger pug marks vanish with the sun. Surviving on plantains and water, the trackers set out early to scour plantations and forests for tigers.
They rely on traditionally acquired skills to track the predators.
Droppings, tufts of hair caught in the undergrowth, carcasses of kills, scratch marks on trees, and smell often indicate tiger presence in the area.
Between 2012 and 2015, the trackers orchestrated the capture of eight tigers, one of which was shot dead.
The tiger threat in the district is so real that the Forest Department has proposed to create a 3 sq km natural enclosure for the captured predators.
Wildlife warden of Wayanad P. Dhanesh Kumar says the raiding tigers are mostly aged or injured ones.
There is continuous tiger movement between Bandhipur, Mudumala, and Nagerhole sanctuaries, which are contiguous to Wayanad. The district alone plays host to 29 tigers at any time.
Wildlife expert P. S. Esa says man-animal conflict is highest in Wayanad.
“Tiger is more of a problem than wild elephants now,” he says.
Between 2010 and 2015, eight persons were killed and 42 persons injured in wild animal attacks.
Predators made of with 408 heads of cattle.
Wild elephants, boars and bonnet macaques caused 4,157 instances of extensive crop loss.
The government had to dispense Rs.6,094,607 as damages to farmers.