Wildlife

CAPTURE OF NAGARHOLE TIGER ENDS MONTH LONG TRAUMA OF FARMERS IN SOUTH KODAGU

Meera Bhardwaj

Another conflict tiger – said to be a serial cattle lifter, has been captured in Karnataka and this time, it is in Nagarhole. Dairy and plantation farmers living on the fringes of Nagarhole heaved a big sigh of relief with the tiger being captured in a late evening operation.

The Bandipur-Nagarhole tiger reserves – the pride of Karnataka has more than 250 tigers and needs more space for its expanding healthy population of tigers and good number of prey animals. They are now spilling out frequently with the result – man-animal conflicts are on the rise.

It was almost 40 days since a tiger started stalking villages on the fringes of Ponnampet range of Nagarhole Tiger reserve. According to forest officials, the tiger was a ‘serial cattle lifter’ and had been posing a big problem in the surrounding villages with people living in constant fear of an impending attack on their cattle by the big cat.

A TOUGH CHALLENGING TASK

Dr Mujiburrahman, Chief Veterinary Officer of Nagarhole Tiger Reserve said, “Our team included WII staff Dr Sanath and myself and we captured the tiger that had killed more than 50 cattle in Virajpet area of Kodagu district. It was an early morning operation well executed with our coordinated efforts. The condition of the tiger is good and the age of the tiger is 6 years. The animal has been shifted to the rescue center of Mysore Zoo safely.”

It may be recalled dairy farmers in south Kodagu had been on tenterhooks and had demanded for capture of this tiger as it had killed 50 cattle heads in Thuchamakeri and Nadikeri villages. In fact, the farmers had staged a protest against the forest department for the delay in catching this tiger. However, for the last few weeks, operations to catch this cattle lifter had been going on with elephants requisitioned from Mathigodu Elephant Camp. Although the tiger was spotted once or twice near one village, forest officials were not successful in either capturing or caging the big cat.

But in the last one week, with one or two sightings, it became easier for the forest officials to track the animal. In fact, one of the villagers said the tiger was seen in Thuchmakeri village a few days back roaming around. The CCF said it was due to constant tracking, camera trapping, studying the behavior pattern of the animal and identifying the right animal that finally led to success.

A SERIAL CATTLE LIFTER

Speaking to Green Minute, CCF Heeralal said, “It was a tough task as the last 20 days, it was being tracked. Every four days – one cattle head was lifted and it used to come after 10 pm and early morning. It was an old tiger with no canines and the cattle was easy prey for them. On Tuesday, when the team was combing the area, it was sighted and captured between 7-7.30 pm. The team was tracking the tiger even in the evening as that was the time the animal used to come for cattle lifting and so it was successfully captured at that time.”  

In the wake of capture operations carried out in the night,  many wildlife conservationist and activists have raised objections and said the standard operating procedures given by the NTCA has not been followed. They alleged, “Operations have to be shut well before 5 pm but here the operation to capture has been done late night thereby, endangering the life of the tiger. Such operations in the night and that too in hilly regions are very dangerous and risky for the tiger – how did they ignore this very important directive? ”

NTCA DIRECTIVES ON COVID

Despite directives given by NTCA and the MoEF&CC to follow certain measures during Covid-19 pandemic – none of the team members including the forest staff who handled the immobilized tiger were wearing masks. Apart from this, it seems even other precautionary measures prescribed by NTCA to prevent Covid-19 spreading from humans to wild tigers has been ignored.”

Wildlife experts also alleged a contract vet from WII who was part of this operation claimed the capture drive was carried under the guidance of WII experts. One expert said, “Though there is provision under SOP to seek assistance of external expert, however, the operation is always guided by technical committee and not any individual. Further, the timing of the operations is a big question mark now – was it done late evening or early morning creating more confusion.”

Regarding allegations of non-adherence to Covid-19 precautions when handling tigers,  Chief Wildlife Warden Ajai Mishra stated masks and sanitizers have been provided to all personnel. He added, “If there is any laxity, we will look into the matter and ensure that staff handling tigers duly follow all Covid measures given by NTCA so that tigers too are safe. As far as tranquillization team is concerned, Dr Mujiburrahman was heading the team and if any other expert was assisting him, it is a welcome feature as the tiger has been captured successfully – ending month long trauma for the affected people.”

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