FEAR stalks people in Chanda Bhudaria village in Uttarakhand's Udham Singh Nagar district. A tigress attacked Jagannath Singh, when he went to defecate on the dusk of January 15, 2007. Jaggannath, who is 65 and infirm, was using the field next to his home, adjacent to the village road. Ten days before this, Naro Devi of neighbouring Chhoti Bakulia village was killed when she had gone to collect firewood in the forest; Geeta Devi of Dumgarha--also in Udham Singh Nagar--had also gone to the forest for firewood when she was grievously injured. The same tigress is said to be responsible for all the incidents. Uttarakhand's forest department has offered compensation and is monitoring the tigress's activity. Meanwhile, conflicts between big cats and humans have also been reported from other parts of the country.
Tigers were sighted earlier too but there have been many more sightings since the monsoon. "There is hardly anyone in my village who has not seen a tiger", says Umesh Singh of Chanda Budaria village.
Harish Guleria, coordinator of the Terai Arc Landscape Project for wwf-India, who has been asked to looked into the problem has an explanation. "Traditional buffers between the forest and agricultural land have reduced in the Terai, so there is increased conflict," he says.
"The tigress might have killed intentionally or accidentally. If the killings were intentional, the animal must be eliminated," says Y V Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. Lal also says that the animal will be declared a man-eater if it attacks more people. It will be then captured or killed, he says. But Guleria does not see any cause for immediate concern. "Six tigers in 150,000 hectares isn't much. The first two incidents took place in the forest, the third, close to it. The tigress might have come close to the village boundary in pursuit of prey. There would be reason to worry if the trend continues, not for now," he says. The animal was more aggressive because it was with cubs, other experts believe.
Human-leopard conflict has also been reported. On January 17, a leopard was killed when it reportedly strayed into a construction site in Nasik, Maharashtra. In Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir, a leopard was killed on the same day after it injured two persons. Another leopard has spread terror in the state's Anantnag district after killing four persons.In Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur district, a leopard injured three persons on January 7. Four dead leopards were found in Gujarat's Panchmahal district poisoning is suspected.
Experts do not believe that there is a sudden spurt in the number of such incidents; it's just that there's more media coverage, they say. Eminent wildlife expert and director, Wildlife Conservation Society's India Programme, K Ullas Karanth, also points to another fact "Tigers normally do not move out when there is reasonable prey. Conflict with leopard, in contrast, is a perennial, because these animals live across human dominated landscapes."
Jhala believes that in some areas of the country, the administration is prepared to handle big cats. Karanth elaborates "The approach of the administration is ad-hoc during a crisis. More often than not, lower level officials have to handle cats without training," he says. Rajesh Gopal, member secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority, however, contends "Facilities might not be of a high level everywhere, but forest departments largely have capacities to manage conflicts".
Uttarakhand's forest administration has distributed firecrackers to people in five villager in the 20 sq km area near the forest to scare away the animals. The people are somewhat at peace, but not completely. "Go back before the sun sets," Mamta Devi advises this Down To Earth team as night falls.
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