Op-Ed: Conservation at the cost of human lives is unacceptable

With a large number of people living within or close to forests, the phenomenon of humans being killed by wild animals is not exactly uncommon in India. Human greed and rapacity has seen the country’s forest cover shrink rapidly since Independence, forcing wild animals to stray into human habitations in search of food with increasing frequency. Hundreds of people have fallen prey to attacks by wild animals – primarily tigers, elephants and bears. But when a tiger imported from outside and settled into a forest strays into a village and kills humans, even one death is too many. And two within a month and half is downright criminal.

What happened in Tainsi village in Angul district on Sunday morning is a lesson in how NOT to go about the business of conservation of the Big Cat. The killing of a woman in Hatibari village in the Satkosia tiger reserve by ‘Sundari’, the tigress brought from the Bandhavgarh sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, on September 13, 2018 – and the violence and arson that followed – should have set the alarm bells ringing among those in charge of managing wildlife in the state. The mandarins of the Forest department should have known that a second death in attack by Sundari would put paid to their grandiose plans of augmenting the tiger population in Satkosia, which has dwindled rapidly over the years. They should have put in place foolproof measures to ensure that such a thing did not happen ever again. But as the killing of Trinath Sahu by Sundari on Sunday shows, the authorities did nothing of the sort. Instead, they appear to have taken it easy once the storm over the killing of Kalilashi Gadnayak blew over, hoping against hope that the guest from Bandhavgarh would mend her ways.

On her part, Sundari had made it abundantly clear that she was in no hurry to settle into her new abode in the core area of the Satkosia sanctuary and stop raiding the nearby villages. Barely five days after the killing of Kalilashi, the tigress killed a cow in Lehedi village under Athmallick forest division. On October 15, she killed a bullock belonging to villager.

These two incidents should have forced forest department officials to see red and make sure it is pushed back to the core area and not allowed to stray out. But they clearly lowered their guard. They did not pay these two incidents the attention they deserved – perhaps because the victims were domestic animals and not humans. But they should have known better. After all, a wild tigress yet to settle down in the forest doesn’t distinguish between a human and an animal when it is out to look for food.

It is for wildlife experts to determine the reasons behind Sundari’s stubborn refusal to get used to its new habitat – unlike Kanha, the male tiger brought from the same sanctuary earlier – and its repeated incursions into human habitations. But whatever they are – the inability to find a mate, an injury sustained either in Bandhavgarh or while being transported here or something else – they are not going to lessen the anger of the people. They have no time for the peculiarities of the behavourial patterns of tigers. What matters to them is their lives and those of their animals. Much as one abhors violence of any kind, one can understand the anger that spilled over in the area after the killing of Trinath Sahu on Sunday.

One can hardly over-emphasise the importance of conservation of the Big Cat, whose presence is the surest sign of the good health of the forest. But the safety and security of the lives and livelihoods of the people living around forests is non-negotiable in any effort to conserve tigers because no such effort is ever going to succeed without their support.

Conservation is certainly important; but it can’t come at the cost of human lives.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)