Kerala Forest Minister K. B. Ganesh Kumar has directed forest officials that tigers straying into populated areas should be trapped and kept in the zoo. This goes against the spirit of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.
The Forest Minister should be probing the real reasons for tigers straying out of the wild instead of suggesting quick fix solutions. Some people have suggested that there is an “over-abundance” of tigers in Wayanad now. This needs a closer look.
In last few years, tigers have moved into areas they were not seen at least for the last few decades. There is indication that the tiger population in the State has gone up and tigers have moved into adjoining areas. In places like Kottoor, no conflicts between the newly arrived tigers and tribals living in the area have been reported. This may be because the forests are healthy and with adequate availability of prey. The status of forests around Agastyarkoodam had improved in recent years but the same cannot be said for Wayanad.
That a tiger need a territory for itself is well known. So, it only natural that tigers move out as their numbers grows. With camera trappings and other technologies available now, the number tigers and the area available for them can easily be determined. If there are too many tigers as claimed, measures to shift some of the tigers to other suitable areas should be worked out. If it is not a problem of territory, steps should immediately be taken to improve status of forests as in Wayanad. Studies in this respect should cover the neighbouring States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It is possible that some problem in those States such as shortage of water could have forced the tigers to flee.
Till the studies are over, the Forest Department can tackle the lifting of domestic animals by tigers by providing adequate compensation. If compensation is good enough, agitated people could be pacified as long as there are no attacks on humans. So, the Minister’s quick fix solution can perhaps wait.
Meanwhile, the Department should speed up its programme to shift people living within the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary to other areas. This is a voluntary programme and people living in pockets inside the forests are willing to relocate. (This may not apply to people living on the periphery who are also threatened by tiger kills.)
It has turned out that the tiger that caused all the trouble was an unhealthy one. In such isolated cases, the Forest Minister’s prescription is correct. However, it should not be applied in all cases of tigers staying into populated areas. Much of the public protests, which forced the Minister to make his statement, was the result of deliberate campaign and rumour mongering by vested interests.
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