Meera Bhardwaj:

The last few years, Ponnampet, Virajpet and other taluks in Kodagu district of Karnataka have been witnessing frequent conflicts with wildlife be it elephants, tigers or leopards. With protests and bandh continuing in Ponnampet and the ‘dangerous tiger’ still elusive, people are demanding its shooting down and also capture of more tigers that are seen in the villages frequently.

Situated in the southern and south-west parts of the district bordering forests and Kerala, Ponnampet needs a long-term permanent solution to tackle the human-wildlife conflict before people take law into their own hands and kill wildlife. The recently carved out taluk in Kodagu has 2.24 lakh acres of forest lands which includes parts of Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary and Devamacchi forests. They are primarily evergreen, semi-evergreen and moist deciduous forests. Apart from this, there are extensive coffee estates as also rubber plantations in Ponnampet and Virajpet taluks.

According to wildlife activists, Ponnampet taluk is very verdant and even the coffee estates look like forests. With shrinking habitat, encroachments and spilling of big cats and elephants, many villages in this taluk like Belluru, Kumtooru, T Shettigeri, Nalkeri and other villages have been caught in the conflict and are witnessing wildlife attacks day in and day out.

Col C P Muthanna, founder and honorary secretary, Environment and Health Foundation and former President, Coorg Wildlife Society in a letter to the chief minister has stated, “The recent death of three innocent people in Kodagu including an 8-year-old boy due to tiger attack shows that there is lack of proper vision for the well-being of Kodagu people. This is a serious problem and maximum loss of life, injuries and damage to property has been due to elephants and I have myself been injured due to elephant attack. In the recent past, there has been a sharp rise in tiger attacks. Last 2 months, 30 cattle have been killed by tigers. This is an unprecedented situation and cannot be allowed to continue.”

For the fourth day, operations to capture the dangerous tiger which has reportedly killed the boy has been going on. Although the tiger has been sighted and tracked but it has remained elusive. The forest department has hired shooters who too are in the team if it becomes necessary to shoot down the tiger.

Speaking to Green Minute, Sanjay Mohan, PCCF and Head of Forest Force said, “There has been repeated attempts to capture the big cat but darting has failed. The animal looks healthy, pellet may have hit the tiger the first day of the capture operation. Since this place is about 7-8 kilometers from Nagarhole and quite a way, it can’t be driven away easily as it may be hiding in coffee estates. With a lot of tree cover in estates, it is easy for tigers to hide. In fact, Ponnampet is like an extension of forests and with plenty of food, water and a place to rest, it is easy for tigers take refuge in estates. They seem to be happier here as it is easy to hunt cattle.”

Tiger population has been rising at a constant rate in Karnataka, adds the PCCF. “We have seen a 28-30 per cent rise in its population as per the national estimation of tigers. Ponnampet which adjoins the Nagarhole tiger reserve has been seeing pushed out tigers that are old (8-9 years), limping and injured. This is due to young males pushing these tigers out which has resulted in them straying into coffee estates frequently.”

Col Muthanna stresses the need for opening up Wildlife Corridors from Nagarhole to Brahmagiri in Kutta region through the Huvinkadu Coffee Plantations. Similarly, coordination will have to be done with Kerala to acquire land for corridors in the adjoining coffee estates of Kerala in Wayanad district. 1000s of acres of rubber plantation in the Western Ghats forests of Kodagu need to be identified as wildlife corridors that have been blocked till now.

The present highway, airport and rail line proposals will neither benefit the district nor its people, he adds. It will only serve to destroy the environment and landscape of Kodagu which is the principal catchment area of river Cauvery at a huge cost. There is a need to scrap such projects and divert the money for bringing safety to people from man-animal conflicts, natural calamities, etc.“There is need for an OSD of the rank of DCF on special duty for mitigation of human-wildlife conflict in Kodagu and should be based in Thithimathi with adequate resources and personnel,” he stresses.