From the Gir National Park in Gujarat to the Sunderbans in West Bengal, lions and tigers are ranging far beyond territories administered by the forest department. Communities that have traditionally been accommodative are now unsettled, their patience worn thin by the rising incidents of human-animal conflicts. Yet, the debate on human-animal conflicts, an understanding of which is basic to conservation research and practice in India, has reached a strange impasse. Nobody quite knows what to do. Meanwhile, reality is outstripping knowledge as well as application.
Gir National Park, Gujarat, western India The Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) here has, of late, developed an allegedly dubious habit young males are flexing their muscles, by ranging far beyond a territory administered, with due pride, by the forest department, even as far as coastal forests in Diu
Indian Sunderbans, West Bengal, eastern India The Royal Bengal Tiger, Panthera tigris tigris--as endangered a species as the one aforementioned--also has an acute habit ranging out of a territory administered, with due pride, by the selfsame forest department, its taste for man eating doesn't seem to have diminished at all
As far as Junagarh, Gujarat, people are extremely tolerant of lions. The Maldharis were a pastoral nomadic community indigenous to the area whose lifestyle received a jolt when the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary was declared in 1965; today, most are resettled outside the protected area.Some live inside, but now want to be resettled. They were comfortable with the lion's ways now they are unsettled.
People here are still prepared to accommodate lions (they don't like the leopards, also living in Gir, Asia's most carnivore-dense area). But their patience has been put to severe test.
Panthera tigris tigris attacks on humans are not uncommon, say Sunderbans villagers. The forest department here concurs. Both point to the fact that in the Indian Sunderbans, neither main landmass nor absolute ocean, humans and tigers can, and do, only subsist.
People here stoically accommodate the Royal Bengal Tiger. But increasing human population is pitting man against beast.
East or west, what's happening? The issue of animal-human conflict is basic to conservation research and practice in India. Yet the debate has reached a strange impasse. Conservation researchers and foresters know such incidents of 'straying' aren't stray incidents.
But nobody quite knows what to do. Meanwhile, reality is outstripping knowledge as well as application.
With kirtiman awasthi and supriya singh in Gir, and maureen nandini mitra in the Sunderbans, Down To Earth asks how comfortable has our understanding of human-animal conflicts become?
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