Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger

by Wildlife Trust of India
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Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Vanishing Stripes: Save the Bengal Tiger
Tiger Pug Marks  during monitoring
Tiger Pug Marks during monitoring

In India, though Tiger (Panthera tigris) is given the status of a National animal, wherever they come into contact with landscapes dominated by humans, they often pose a threat by preying on livestock and less commonly on people. In such situations, local antagonism against tigers often erupts into a serious problem. The incidence of human–tiger conflicts (HTCs) is therefore very alarming in India.  The years 2014-2017, there have been 345 tigers killed and 92 human causalities.  With increasing tiger population and decreasing habitat, it is believed the numbers are to rise with time.

With the gracious support of GlobalGiving, WTI helped in conflict management in a high conflict region in and around Yavatmal district. Situated in the far southernmost corner of the Central Indian landscape in Vidarbha region, Maharashtra,Yavatmal is also known as the “Cotton city” of India and is dominated by the farming community. Though the forest in this region is isolated from major protected area network in the state; it does boast to be an important wildlife habitat for tigers and their prey base. As per official records, it is slated to have regular movement of 5-10 tigers in and around this area.

The rise in tigers entering the area from adjoining protected areas, has led to a situation of conflict.  A total of 1144 human deaths were recorded due to conflict with tigers in India (till May 2017). In Yavatmal, in a span of two years, there have been many human injuries and twelve human deaths. Apart from human deaths, depredation of livestock is also widespread. Domestic animals being easy prey the number of conflict cases has risen multi-fold in this region. Traumatised local communities often in such situation were witnessed to lose their tolerance and seek to kill the animal, out of revenge.

WTI team looking at this situation planned on intervening before the situation got worse. With the support of the state forest department and local conservationists the team initiated the exercise to track the movement and territory pattern of the   problem tiger. The team assisted the FD in setting up camera trap to identify the individual, which was found to be a tigress. Based on the tracking history, it future movement were predicted and cautions were sounded of in villages. Other vital information on how to handle conflict situation were also disseminated to ensure the safety of locals as well as the tiger.  

Additionally, the field team has been coordinating with the forest department and target conflict villages to undertake regular awareness programmes. Traditionally, approaches for reducing conflict between people and wild cats have focussed on limiting interactions between people and wild cats, or mitigating the impacts of the wild cat behaviour on conflict communities. Being an agriculture-dominated landscape, local communities were given information to alter their perceptions of the risks posed by tigers, advice people on how to avoid/reduce probability of negative encounters with tigers.

This cross collaboration with communities and forest department is helping in establishing long term-holistic conflict management strategies. Since the initiation the conflict intensity has seen a marked decline. Until the time the tigress is moving in a human dominated landscape and away from the PA (Protected Areas), such measures will continue in a bid to keep the tiger and humans from harm’s way.

At Wildlife Trust of India our mission is “To conserve wildlife and its habitat and to work for the welfare of individual wild animals, in partnership with communities and governments.” Which is being practised in all the projects like this one.

WTI is thankful to all the supporters on GlobalGiving platform for their continuous support which encourages us and motivates us to follow our mission and saving individual wild animal.

Awareness meeting
Awareness meeting
Photograph of a tiger from landscape
Photograph of a tiger from landscape
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Tiger in Bandipur Tiger Reserve
Tiger in Bandipur Tiger Reserve

India holds over half of the world’s tiger population and is considered to have the best chance for saving the wild population of this magnificent animal. Being the apex of the food chain and an umbrella species, presence of tiger is vital in regulating ecological processes and systems in a habitat. Bandipur, in the southern state of Karnataka is one of the earliest Tiger reserves in the country and holds the distinction of housing the second largest population of tigers (estimated 136) in the world. However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that tigers are under severe threat from poaching, human wildlife conflict, forest fires, expansion of linear infrastructure to name a few.

Through your support, WTI has been working in Bandipur TR to address poaching and resolving various aspects of human-wildlife conflict. In the past few months, the team (in two separate incidents) assisted the forest department in capturing and providing veterinary treatment to two injured tigers. The veterinary officer also provided treatment to four cases of livestock that had been attacked and injured by tigers in Maddur, Hediyala, N.Begur and Kundkere forest ranges. All the treated cattle have recovered from their injuries and are back in good health. A consultative meeting was also organized with the local panchayat members to ensure that no retaliatory poisoning would be done by the locals, in return for timely ex-gratia by the forest department. The team also accompanied the Animal Husbandry Department (AHD) and conducted Foot & Mouth Disease vaccination programs in fringe villages of Bandipur TR to limit its breakout.

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Seized Tiger skin
Seized Tiger skin

By virtue of being the top predator, Tiger functions as an umbrella species for the conservation of biodiversity, ecosystem functions, goods, and services in forest. Poaching, driven largely by the international demand for tiger parts over the years has emerged as a major threat alongside prey depletion and habitat loss. India, being home to more the half of the world’s tigers is thus facing a challenging task in protecting the species from increasing incidences of poaching and trafficking. Despite focused efforts and legal protection by forest department under Wildlife Protection (1972) Act, poaching of tigers continue unabated. Being a conservation dependent species, efforts are needed from all quarters. With your valuable contribution and support a number of enforcement initiatives have been taken by WTI in support of the state forest departments to address the rising illegal tiger trade in India.

Recently, in a collaborative enforcement initiative by WTI field team and Karnataka FD a tiger skin was seized in Mysore, Karnataka. Two accused were also apprehended, one who through an intensive interrogation process revealed himself to be a poacher. Critical information such as the site of tiger capture and the modus operandi was revealed by him. Based on the provided intelligence, the enforcement team visited the crime site. The team found strong evidence of camp fire and other poaching gear indicating presence of an established gang in the region. Efforts are currently on to locate the gang and bring an end to the trade.

It is hoped that with your continuous support, we will earn more opportunities for monitoring and address tiger crime in India. 

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Awareness Gathering
Awareness Gathering

Sundarbans is classified as Tiger Conservation Landscape of Global Priority. It holds one of the world’s largest remaining Bengal tiger population in a coastal mangrove habitat.  The human–tiger conflict in Sundarbans mangroves is more frequent than in any other area of the world. However, their habitat has been greatly depleted due to over alarming rise in human population and conversion of forests into farms and human settlements. Hunting and forest degradation of the remaining habitat patches has led to the intrusion of the tigers into human settlements.

There are about 8 sub districts whose villagers live adjacent to the forest boundary and are dependent on natural resources within Sundarbans for a number of income generating activities.  The estimates of human kills range from 50-250 people per year mostly honey collectors, fisherman, crab collectors and even forest frontline staff. These villagers also experiences high levels of livestock depredation and face the conflict with the tigers. In 2015, a woman was killed in Gudalur by a tiger which created a state of violence in the location. The angry villagers were on boil and attacked the forest officials and torched their jeeps.

According to Forest Department, at least 3 tiger per year are killed as a result of conflict in Sundarbans. Such high rate of rising conflict will one day result in extinction of the species. To address the conflict situation, Wildlife Trust of India with your support initiated a Rapid Action Project aimed at curbing the immediate threats in these conflict prone villages.  Ten primary response teams (PRTs) are constantly working with forest department for mitigating conflicts in the villages falling under Gurguria Bhubaneswari Gram Panchayat. The rapid action of volunteers in locating the stray tigers is actually contributing the Forest department to capture the tiger and release it in the safe location. Apart from this, the teams are also controlling the crowd and sensitizing them on not to panic during the conflict situation. Along with Forest Department, the team has managed to engage with other concerned stakeholders like village heads, fisherman and farmers clubs, fisherman groups, block developmental offices.

A workshop cum awareness meeting was arranged at Nibedita Mahila Samity (local samity), Purba Gurguria village in presence of 45 community leaders from different farmers clubs, SHGs, and youth clubs. In this workshop, several discussions on importance of Sundarban tigers, cause of conflict, mitigation of the conflicts were discussed with different key stakeholders. Major decisions like distribution of contact numbers of local forest department to among volunteers, village heads, use of shanks, blow horn to raise alarms in tiger presence in vicinity of the area were taken during this workshop. Sixteen such local level awareness meetings have been conducted in conflict prone villages. The members of youth club have volunteered for mitigation of conflicts in the area who have been trained on how to deal with tigers that stray, to decrease the delay in response time when tiger stray into villages. Thesevolunteers are helping the PRTs by informing the forest department about tiger movement in the area. A mock drill was also arranged to sensitize the villagers about the conflict with tigers. Such role-plays help to gauge levels of preparedness for actual conflict situations, and aid in the development of standard operating protocols for village communities and especially the Primary Response Teams (comprised of representatives from conflict-prone villages) that are supposed to monitor and manage such situations to save both human and animal lives. Broad guidelines were also passed on to the villagers to help prevent conflict situations.  

Folk media campaigns have proven to be extremely effective across a number of projects at striking an emotional chord and conveying complex ideas simply and succinctly. A folk media campaign of ‘Bon Bibi’ was arranged by the PRTs which attracted over one thousand people. ‘Bon Bibi’ is the lady of forest and is considered as the god of tiger by people of Sundarbans. People believe that Bon Bibi is protecting the villagers from tiger attacks. Two such programs were arranged with folk songs. This medium was used as a platform to pass on the information among villagers about tigers, their importance and conservation. Posters having the guidelines about the human tiger conflict mitigation were also distributed to block developmental offices (BDO), panchyats, schools, scientists and youth clubs of Sundarban Area. Meetings were arranged with BDOs to provide the information about our work and requested them to inform the villagers about governmental welfare schemes to reduce the the forest dependency. 

2) Folk Media Campaign
2) Folk Media Campaign
3) Distribution of poster to the BDOs
3) Distribution of poster to the BDOs
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Field Team locating strayed Tiger
Field Team locating strayed Tiger

Large carnivores are facing a massive decline in their population, which is a global conservation concern. Among large carnivores, tigers especially are continually threatened by number of threats. India, which holds the 70% of the world's tiger population face a challenging task in protecting the species. The tiger population here is confined to small and isolated forests where stochastic events and continuing human impacts had an adverse impact leading it to extinction.

WTI has been a pioneer in addressing the conservation threats to tiger population in India. A number of enforcement initiatives have been taken up by the team in support of the state forest departments to address the rising demand for tiger skin and bones. WTI was the first organization to identify snares as a serious threat to the survival of wildlife, especially tigers, in the Protected Areas of India. Snares made up of loop (noose) of cordage are placed by hunters and poachers, camouflaged with vegetation across an animal trail or other place where an animal is likely to walk through. The big carnivores get trapped in these wires and get entangled.  They are usually placed by local hunters & poachers to illegally collect body parts of big cats and farmers to avoid conflicts with them. In Bandipur TR, WTI in collaboration with Karnataka FD officials conducted many anti snare walks in and around the PA, where the team unearthed more than 1000 deadly snares from an area of over 2200 sq km. Recently, based on local intelligence the team recovered around 56 snares from Kenchanakere, Hunsur district  and Chamundi hills, Karnataka.

In the state of West Bengal, Sundarban TR is a world heritage site. Tigers here notoriously termed as “Maneater” often come in conflict with humans. Apart from livestock depredation, tigers often attack human inside forests when engaged in activities like fishing, fuelwood collection. However, there has been a recent trend of tigers coming inside village and killing humans especially in the winter months. Through your support WTI have conducted sensitization programs in few high conflict villages engaging all stakeholders. We also formulated rapid response teams by involving the youth of the villages whose primary responsibility will be to assist the FD officials in driving the tiger away from human habitation and keeping the crowd in control, to prevent any retaliation. This response team was recently equipped with high powered lights and blow horns to sound an alert in case a tiger is sighted in the village. The field team have also planned to use barriers (through nylon nets) around the village vicinity. In one instance the rapid response team provided local intel to the FD staff in capturing a strayed tiger. Based on the local intel from this team, the FD staff set the trap leading to its successful capture. The FD is planning to release the tiger back into the wild.

Equipping the Team
Equipping the Team
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Wildlife Trust of India

Location: Noida, Uttar Pradesh - India
Website:
Project Leader:
Monica Verma
Noida, Uttar Pradesh India
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