Ullas Karanth, director for Science-Asia and a well-known tiger biologist and scientist who has contributed immensely to the world of tiger conservation, in an interview with Express said that man-animal conflicts needed to be managed rationally and that a high degree of professionalism was needed while handling such situations.
Ullas Karanth serves on the Indian Government’s Forest Advisory Committee, National Tiger Conservation Authority and Karnataka Government’s Tiger Conservation Foundation and Tiger Steering Committees. He was also critical of the role that media played in whipping up emotions in Wayanad.
Q: Is there any truth in the saying that tigers do not hunt human children?
A: Normally, tigers fear all humans. Very rarely a specific tiger may prey on humans, usually because of injuries or starvation and when they do so they can kill both adults and children.
Q: How can a common man handle such conflict situations? What do you think went wrong in Wayanad?
A: While I understand the affected persons agitating for compensation, the so-called ‘common man’ forming mobs, rioting etc does not help at all. Even under ideal conditions, handling conflicts involving big cats is a serious challenge. A big problem in India is the formation of mobs who gather, get excited and indulge in violence. This does no good to anyone. I also think it is the sensationalised media coverage that whips up these mobs further... a few heads of cattle are eaten, compensation is paid, but the press paint a picture of a tiger that is terrorising large areas and entire populations. Like some Jim Corbett tale... a tiger running for fear of life from an enraged mob of thousands is portrayed as terrible beast threatening them. All this contributes to the insanity that prevails at the point of conflict, it is so sad.
Q: Do you think it was starvation that made the tiger in Wayanad come out of the forest and into the human settlements?
A: Wayanad WLS is just a thin strip of forest that essentially forms a buffer to the high density, large tiger population in Nagarahole-Bandipur reserves in Karnataka. Our data show this population is at high densities and producing a surplus of tigers every year. These surplus tigers (consisting of sub-adults looking for new home ranges, or old animals evicted from the home ranges) are pushed out and come into conflict through livestock predation on the edge of the forests. It is wrong to assume that they come out of the forest because there is no natural prey inside. These tigers are pushed out due to the territorial nature of the big cats. Our data show that one of the tigers trapped by Kerala Forest Department recently, was originally from Nagarahole.
Q:Man-animal conflict is difficult to prevent in a buffer zone bordering dense forests. Is human displacement an answer?
A: Inside tiger reserves in prime habitats, voluntary, fair, generous relocation of human settlement will entirely prevent conflicts, but on the edges the conflict needs to be managed rationally-response may involve even killing the problem animal if the situation really warrants it. A high degree of professionalism is needed while handling the situation.
Q: It has been said that the state Forest Department failed to dispel the fear in the minds of the people.
A: I do not actually know what the Forest Department has done or not done there, beyond press reports I have seen. So I cannot comment. Unfortunately, people also become overexcited, form mobs and start to riot, and this is not at all helpful in handling the situation.
and causes more harm than good to both people and the tiger involved.
I am not sure how well-trained the forest staff involved in these tiger conflict mitigation operations are. We have been studying this tiger population for decades and made it a point to share our data with Forest Departments of all three states, when these incidents occur. Kerala Foresters have not shown much interest in all this so far.