Touted as the 'tiger state', Madhya Pradesh has managed to make some progress with respect to conservation of the national animal. However, the conservation has thrown new challenges for the central Indian state as instances of man-animal conflict are showing gradual surge. Madhya Pradesh recorded 17 instances of tigers attacking humans in 2020, with six people dying, compared with just ten incidents and four deaths in 2019.
In May, a woman was killed while she had gone to the jungle to gather Tendu Patta near the Pench Tiger Reserve. A 22-year-old man was killed by a tiger in the Kanha-Pench corridor in June while gathering wood.
What is disturbing the tiger habitats?
"The forest is splitting up into small parts as a result of highway expansion," says Nitin Gupta, a wildlife activist.
Non-forest regions tend to expand and increase with time, he said, reducing the forest to isolated forest islands. Forest fragmentation wreaks havoc on the natural ecosystem and disturbs the creatures that live there. "The protected habitat of the tiger has decreased over time, while human involvement has increased," Gupta said.
Unlawful encroachment in the buffer zone, according to Gupta, is limiting the amount of area available for tigers and other animals to roam. When their movement space is constrained, animals enter residential areas.
Environmentalist Ajay Dubey believes that the government has to implement different mitigating measures such as animal overpasses and animal transmission lines to minimise animal accidents on national highways.
The first underpass for India's wildlife corridor was completed in August on National Highway 44. The Kanha-Pench corridor is bisected by a 1400-meter-long underpass.
Why is there a spike in man-animal conflict cases?
Vincent Rahim, Field Director of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, points towards the "problem of plenty". In many areas, the number of tigers exceeds the space to accommodate them. The tigers often clash amongst themselves when there is a lack of space. In quest of fresh territory, tigers enter the residential areas, making the man-animal conflict and unavoidable consequence.
According to a report by Sandeep Chauksey, illegal access into the core and buffer areas for gathering minor forest produce, daily necessities, and livestock grazing are the main causes of the current conflict.
Large forest areas have been degraded and fragmented for construction of rail lines and roads, according to the report. Forest fragmentation, agriculture field development, human settlement, mining, and dams not only degrade the natural habitat of the wild animals, they also expose tigers to wandering out towards human settlements.
How is the government planning to tackle man-animal conflict?
Apart from keeping in check the tiger killing and poaching activities, Madhya Pradesh's forest department Alok Kumar, Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh, says, "We are keeping the tiger corridor intact that links two tiger reserves."
"Through the formation of a Joint Forest Management (JFM) committee, we are connecting with stakeholders, including villagers living in tiger reserves," he explains. The forest department ensures that forest livelihoods are protected by providing them with safety. They also attempt to raise forest inhabitants' knowledge and attentiveness so that they can cohabit with tigers.
How do people living around tiger reserves survive?
As the summer hits peak in the region, water and feed for cattle becomes scarce. The villagers then venture into the forest areas in search of fodder, Mahua, or timber. That is when the majority of tiger attacks occur.
"We finish the work on our agricultural fields during the day. We don't venture out of our house after evening," says Dheeraj Pandey, who lives near Panna Tiger Reserve. He says the tigers often roam around in the village and have attacked the animals on several occasions. "We immediately notify the forest guard and other officials if we spot a tiger," he adds.
Sudheer Kol says when the tigers don't get enough food in the jungle, they step into the village and attack the livestock. Kol, a Kol tribe member, lives near the Sanjay Tiger Reserve.
Why is Madhya Pradesh known as the 'Tiger State'?
According to All India Tiger Estimation report of 2018, Madhya Pradesh is home to 526 tigers, highest in India. It is closely followed by Karnataka with 524 tigers. In 2010, there were 300 tigers in Karnataka, compared to 257 in Madhya Pradesh.
"Since we kept our tiger state designation in 2018, tourist influx in tiger reserves has increased," Alok Kumar said. "Locals benefit from tourist activities because they provide job opportunities."
He explained, "We have prepared our team for the 2022 tiger census by giving them appropriate training. We are optimistic that the 2022 survey will go down without a hitch, and that the tiger status will be retained once more."
The Indian government began Project Tiger, a tiger conservation initiative, in 1973. Since its initiation, Project Tiger has grown from nine tiger reserves to 51, scattered over 18 of the tiger range states. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change provides government aid to tiger states for tiger conservation in designated tiger reserves, according to the plans.
Core and buffer zones were established to construct tiger reserves. In core zones, any sort of human interference is prohibited.
The term "buffer zone" refers to a region where residents and wildlife co-exist. In the buffer zone, ecotourism, recreation, agriculture, and forestry are allowed. A core area is surrounded by buffer zones.
There are six tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh--Kanha Tiger Reserve, Pench Tiger Reserve, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, Panna Tiger Reserve, Satpura Tiger Reserve, and Sanjay-Dubri Tiger Reserve.
The author is a freelance journalist based in Madhya Pradesh.