By Valmik Thapar
From 2006-2007 till today there has been a sharp increase in the human interference with wild tigers especially by forest managers. At the same time there has been a link with a corresponding increase in man-tiger conflict, attacks on man and livestock and tigers both old and young leaving the precincts of forests in search of food. We need to carefully examine what is causing trauma and stress in wild tigers.
Forest officers have indulged in excessive artificial baiting of wild tigers either to increase their longevity, for watching and photographing them, to aid their natural food supply in case of freshly introduced tigers as done in Sariska, Panna and Nagzira, etc, artificial feeding of orphaned cubs till adulthood and providing food to injured and slightly injured tigers to aid recovery. Tens of lakhs of rupees have been spent on live and dead bait. It is difficult to know under which head of expenditure this has been done — science and research perhaps even though no scientific reasoning is followed.
Tranquiliser guns seem to have become a fashion and they are used to sedate slightly injured or sick tigers and treat them with antibiotics before releasing them. Many tigers have been tranquilised and relocated to new areas as done in Ranthambhore, Panna, Sariska, Kanha, Pench, Bandhavgarh, Nagzira, and several other locations. I believe at least 100-130 wild tigers have been manhandled and subjected to traumas in the last eight years.
The impact of all of this on the natural society of tigers has been severe as dominant males and breeding females have suddenly been lifted out and this has resulted in possible conflict among tigers, male tigers and cubs and even among tigresses. Sadly the negative impacts have not been addressed.
The scars of this kind of severe interference are not only seen at the source level but also in the new home. Relocated tigers are followed, chased, as attempts are made by officials to confine them to specific forest areas and prevent them from going where they want. In this exercise hundreds of people are employed to force freshly released tigers to change direction by using firecrackers, lighting fires, sounding drums, shouting and behaving in much the same way as the hunters of the past did. Forest managers have gone to the extent of using water tankers to pour water to what they considered were thirsty tigers! The damage and disturbance done to the tigers’ world in the last eight years is shocking.
Instead of better technology being used for understanding tigers through reliable scientific research, it is being used for sharply intrusive impacts in the tigers’ natural world.
One cannot tranquilise wild tigers as per anyone’s whims and fancy. One cannot feed orphaned cubs and expect that they will not turn on man as prey in the future. We cannot play god to wild tigers otherwise we are directly going to be responsible for both the trauma that tigers suffer and their consequences.
Draw a graph over the last eight years between the levels of manhandling, collaring, tranquilising and feeding of tigers and the levels of attacks on humans and one will find a close connection. I grew up to believe that nature must take its course and we cannot interfere in the life of wild tigers. We must stick to this principle otherwise unknowingly we are creating the most serious problem for tigers. We must minimise the impacts of our forest managers and their decisions. Handling wild tigers needs to be banned unless there is an emergency or a scientific mission. If not the man-tiger conflict will grow as traumatised tigers roam both in forests where their kin have been plucked and in new forests that they know nothing of and where they have been placed. Impacts on these tigers and their brethren can be far reaching in terms of their response to humans.