Killings of T1, UP tiger kick up global controversies

Nagpur: Conflict between people and tigers is the ultimate example of double-edged sword of conservation, Panthera, the global wildcat conservation organization, has said.
“India’s tremendous successes in saving and growing its tigers, paired with the nation’s exploding human population, have shifted the landscape to one in which encounters between cats and communities are frequent, and no doubt increasing,” said Dr John Goodrich, Panthera’s chief scientist and tiger program senior director.

Goodrich’s statement to TOI comes in the backdrop of killing of problem tigress T1 of Pandharkawda (Yavatmal) and another crushed to death by villagers in Uttar Pradesh recently.

The killing of two tigers linked to a number of attacks on people in India have ignited significant controversy and debate over the management of conflict between humans and wildlife, including big cats, elephants and other large mammals.

Panthera recognized the undeniable tragedy of these incidents for both people and wildlife alike, and encouraged the governments of world’s 11 tiger-bearing countries to pro-actively establish and, where needed, “improve upon comprehensive measures proven to reduce and prevent human-tiger conflict, humanely implement standardized procedures of engagement when conflict occurs”.

“Particularly for an endangered species hanging on brink of extinction across much of its range, having so many tigers that they spill over park boundaries is a welcome and rare ‘problem’ to have,” said Goodrich.

The expert added that though the Indian government, with the help of local NGOs, has developed strong conflict prevention programmes, even the best programs cannot stop all conflict. In such instances, “swift response is needed to prevent backlash from local people that undermines conservation efforts”.

Goodrich continued, “The case of tigress crushed by a tractor is a tragic example of what can happen when locals retaliate. Removal of an offending tiger from the wild is an absolute last resort but necessary to avoid greater risk to tiger populations.”

The expert suggested measures like improving livestock management, such as use of predator-proof corrals, to decrease tiger depredation that triggers retaliatory killings of tigers.

Goodrich called for protecting tiger prey through increased law enforcement, habitat improvements and legislation, thus decreasing attacks on livestock.

While the recent events in India have focused world’s attention on the potential pitfalls of having large numbers of tigers in a densely populated landscape, it’s important to note that India’s tolerance for living with large carnivores is unusually high.

“Still, tigers in India and across the species’ range are severely threatened by poaching, habitat loss, and conflict with people, and continue to be in danger of extinction,” he said.

Today, India is home to world’s largest tiger population, significant leopard and elephant populations, and the second largest human population, estimated at nearly 1.35 billion individuals, all of which are vying for a finite amount of space.

Through the Tigers Forever Program, Panthera’s scientists and law enforcement experts work in India, Nepal, and across other tiger-bearing countries to mitigate conflict and invest in community-centred conservation initiatives that secure the livelihoods and well-being of those sharing their homes with wildlife.

Goodrich added, “Restoring tiger populations to healthy levels relies on the trust, tolerance and engagement of the people living alongside these wildcats. This is the very foundation of successful conservation.”

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