HASSANUR (SATHYAMANGALAM): B Govindan, a small scale farmer from Itarai has lost 22 cows in the last three years to tigers straying out of Sathyamangalam forest in search of prey. Despite a loss of Rs 15,000 for each cow killed, Govindan never thought of poisoning the big cat. Neither did he approach the government for help to gun down the tiger. After each loss, he simply took the bus to Hassanur where he informed B Krishnakumar, an entrepreneur and conservation activist, about the loss. After verifying the incident, Krishnakumar gives him some money from his own pocket which at least partially compensates for Govindan’s loss.
“While forest laws limit compensation only to human death caused by wild animal, the privilege has not yet been extended to domestic animals owned by farmers living in forest fringes. Krishnakumar is a rare example of conservation, as he spends his own money for the environment. So far, he has given Rs 70,000 to my brothers, sister, uncles and me,” said Govindan.
Now in his late fifties, Krishnakumar has paid a total of Rs 10 lakh so far as compensation for the deaths of 350 cattle attacked by tigers in the 30 km radius of Hassanur. He initiated this mission five years ago. To support the poor farmers in the region, he runs a small resort and a drive-in restaurant. Hailing from Thudiyalur in Coimbatore, Krishnakumar also has a plantation in Hassanur which brings him some money. To Krishnakumar, who earlier ran a textile mill in Coimbatore and a granite quarry in Thalavadi, his interest in conservation began five years ago. He pays enough compensation that keeps farmers and tribal people from poisoning tigers. Consequently, Sathyamangalam has become a safe haven for tigers.
“It is a simple model which can be replicated in places like Wayanad, Kerala, where a tiger that had killed several cattle, was gunned down last week. Farmers have no aversion to tigers. They just want to protect their livelihood. If the government is interested in conserving the tiger, all it has to do is pay farmers adequate compensation. India’s tiger conservation effort has failed to take farmers and forest dwellers in confidence. This is why tiger reserve projects across the country are facing resistance,” points out Krishnakumar.
Hearing about Krishnakumar, a group of youths in Coimbatore under ACME Round Table 133 have recently developed a corpus to support his initiative. They have also paid compensation worth Rs 2.5 lakh based on recommendation made by Krishnakumar. “With the compensation, farmers can replace their losses. In this way, farmers indirectly aid conservation efforts,” said K S Sundararaman, president of the Round Table.
Krishnakumar pays the owner of a buffalo killed by a tiger Rs 4,500 while the compensation would be Rs 3,500 for a cow. Compensation for a calf is Rs 2,500. “We ensure the compensation reaches the farmer within 20 days of the incident. The forest department was earlier apprehensive about the project but now they feel it offers some resolution to the man-animal conflict. If similar organizations taking this up in other forest areas, the tiger population can be enhanced while protecting the livelihood of farmers,” says Krishnakumar.
According to forest department estimate, Sathyamangalam has 25 tigers now. Ironically, it was Veerappan who helped increase the tiger population here. As his focus was just on elephants and sandalwood, other animals were safe. Fearing him, no other poacher went inside the forests,” he said.