Tiger mess up now in full light
- P. VENUGOPAL
- E. M. MANOJ
It has now become sufficiently clear that the Kerala Wildlife Department had gone wrong in the task of handling the cattle-lifting tiger that was shot dead by a nervous forest guard on December 2.
The tiger, aged around 12 years, shot dead on a coffee plantation near the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary was identified as the same ‘tigress’ that was successfully trapped in a cage on November 14 in another place in the sanctuary and released ‘deep in the forests’ the next day.
A top wildlife official who did not want to be named admitted to The Hindu that it was the same animal. Tiger’s stripes are as dependable as man’s fingerprints to determine the identity of the individual. Each pattern is unique. Photos of the dead tiger and those of the trapped and released tigress were sent by the department to five wildlife institutions in the country for comparison. The reports started reaching the Wildlife Headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday. The reports confirm that the animal is the same. It was just that the officials who had captured and released the ‘first tigress’ could not identify its gender.
There are clear protocols on how to deal with a cattle-lifting tiger that is not a man-eater as this one. Tigers are territorial animals. Each grown up tiger establishes authority over a particular territory in the wildlife habitat around it, often fighting out competitors. Only during the mating time and when the cubs are too young to be on their own can the tigers roam together in the same territory. The weaker of the animal will move out of the territory concerned and even die fighting for the territory.
The tiger captured on November 14 and released ‘far away near Karnataka border’ had apparently no other option than to return to the villages on the borders of the sanctuary. It had turned to cattle-lifting since it was too weak to hunt. But the Wildlife Department did not disclose it was a weak animal when it was captured and released. In such instances, the recommended practice is to take care of it in captivity. Sending it back into the wild will result either in its death fighting a stronger tiger or its unavoidable return to cattle-lifting ways.
Expert disputes finding on tigers
Noted conservation biologist K Ullas Karanth has disputed the findings of the Kerala forest department on recent incidents of human-wildlife conflict in Wayanad, Kerala.
Karanth, who is the director for science with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said on Thursday that the ad hoc camera trappings being used by them had led to claims of inflated tiger numbers. They misled and aroused public anxiety and were not beneficial to conservation efforts, he added.
Karanth, along with N Samba Kumar and Narendra Patil of WCS India, noted that their organisation along with the Centre for Wildlife Studies had carried out photographic capture-recapture studies of tiger populations for over two decades.
It has identified over 600 tigers in this landscape in Karnataka and adjoining area in Tamil Nadu and Kerala (Malenad Mysore Tiger Landscape-MMTL) and the tiger population in Wayanad constitutes only a small part.
Their study had noted that this year after November 11, several cases of predation on domestic cattle by a tiger were reported from Begur village outside Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary leading to local protests.
Thereafter, the Kerala forest department had box-trapped a tiger in Periya territorial forest range of North Wayanad Division. The tiger had a deep wound on the nose and was emaciated. The officials confirmed it as a female tiger aged around 13 years of age.
This animal was released on November 14 at Kurchiyat forest range in Muthanga. In the week following this release, there were reports of more attacks on cattle near the release area leading to protests by local people around Naikkatty village. Forest officials attributed these incidents to the presence of a different tiger.
Karanth said that after studying the information using camera trap photos from long-term project titled ‘Meta-population dynamics of tigers in Malenad-Mysore landscape in Karnataka’ and from the image of the tiger released in Muthanga, “We initially identified it as tiger with the number NHT-L104, which was first photo-captured on Bulldozer Road in Nagarahole on February 15, 2005.”
“We identified the animal, whose photo was circulated as the ‘second problem tiger’, as ‘Brahma’ a male tiger currently in Mysore Zoo. This tiger was trapped on the fringes of Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, as far back as April 5, 2008,” Karanth said.
All the information from the above analysis was communicated to Kerala forest department on November 28 this year, while also offering assistance.
Based on the evidence, the WCS scientists were able to provide a permanent ID for this tiger following current protocols. It was confirmed to be a male.
This tiger NHT-L104 (NHT-243) is an unusual individual. It is likely that this animal was unable to compete and establish a territory in Nagarahole between 2005 and 2007, when it was a sub-adult, and became a transient moving through the larger landscape involving several parks before it was captured on November 14.
Given the high density and reproductive potential of the Nagarahole-Bandipur tiger populations, a surplus of either sub-adult or evicted older tigers is likely to spill over on to the wider landscape. Additionally, parks such as BRT and Mudumalai may also be adding a surplus to this overall population. Thus, conflicts are inevitable on the fringe areas such as Wayanad, Karanth remarked.