- According to the state’s forest department data, 51 people died in tiger and other wildlife attacks in Chandrapur, in 2022.
- Most of these tiger attacks have occurred on workers in farms, villagers collecting minor forest produce or those who came too close to tigers inadvertently.
- The surplus tigers are finding habitat in non-forest areas, near human settlements in both Chandrapur and Gadchiroli. All this is leading to frequent encounters between tigers and humans.
Sitabai Salame from Chandrapur district’s Torgaon village in Maharashtra, died after being attacked by a tiger. “She was in the field, quite far away from the forest areas, when a tiger attacked her,” Sitabai’s son, Vilas said, about the incident on December 31, 2022. Sitabai is one among the nine people in Chandrapur who have been killed in attacks by wild animals, particularly tigers, in the past four months (as of end-April 2023).
Last year, in 2022, one life was lost every week in wildlife attacks, mostly by tigers, in Chandrapur, according to data from the Maharashtra Forest Department. In the neighbouring Gadchiroli district, one such death was recorded every two weeks in the same year. The intensity and frequency of such conflict and associated deaths has been increasing every year, shows data.
According to the state’s forest department data, 51 people died in tiger and other wildlife attacks in Chandrapur, in 2022. In 2021, 46 people died and in 2020, 32 died, from such attacks. Similarly, in the neighbouring Gadchiroli district, the total number of people who died in such attacks was 29 in 2022; 17 in 2021; nine in 2020, and one in 2019. The data indicates an increasing trend of deaths in human-wildlife encounters in recent years.
Increase in tigers
Chandrapur and Gadchiroli districts are located in the Central Indian Highlands and Eastern Ghats Landscape of India, a region with the highest level of conflict between tigers and humans, according to the latest tiger population estimation study made public.
These districts are densely covered with forests and have witnessed an increase in the number of tigers. This has further aggravated human-animal conflict.
The Status of Tigers 2022 report estimated 248 tigers in Chandrapur, while, at present, forest officials say the number is over 250. According to the 2018-2019 tiger estimation report, the tiger population here was 175 in 2018. In Gadchiroli, according to the Maharashtra Forest Department, the official number of tigers was two in 2000-02. Some people even claimed there were no tigers at all. In 2017 as well, upto two tigers were estimated to be in the district. In recent years, however, this number has increased and forest officials claim there are at least 27 adult tigers in Gadchiroli now.
The new tigers in Gadchiroli appeared to have come from the Brahmapuri division — a territorial forest in Chandrapur, which is separated from Gadchiroli by the Wainganga river. In recent years, the surplus tiger population from Chandrapur’s Bramhpuri division began finding habitats in Gadchiroli, where forests have typically known to be less populated with wildlife, because of poaching, deforestation, and militancy, note officials and experts.
The Bramhpuri forest division records the highest number of tiger attacks across Maharashtra, according to data, confirmed by officials. The Torgaon village, where the Salame family lives, falls in the Bramhapuri division. “There used to be no such attacks a decade ago,” Vilas said. “We could see tigers near our village, but they would avoid humans. However, their number and attacks on humans have increased substantially in the past few years. I never thought one of my family members would become a victim one day.”
Gajanan Tagne, a forest guard, is helping the Salame family get compensation. “Torgaon village comes under my beat. So, I regularly hold discussions with people to see how human-tiger encounters can be prevented,” he said. Villagers said tigers can be spotted easily nowadays, as they come near villages to prey on cattle. Rajesh Raut, a resident of the village said that they have stopped stepping outside their homes after dark. “We have even stopped going to our fields to guard crops at night. Tigers coming close to villages in search of cattle is dangerous.”
‘Most cases appear to be accidents’
Most of these tiger attacks have occurred on workers in farms, villagers collecting minor forest produce or those who came too close to tigers inadvertently. Vivek Karambelkar, Honorary Wildlife Warden, Chandrapur district, said that most of the attacks on humans appear to be cases of accidents. “Humans are not their target. But they get killed accidentally when tigers are trying to kill cattle, or when they become an obstruction to their movement,” he added. “Fragmented wildlife corridors are worsening the problem. We must ensure these corridors are intact and undisturbed. This would help reduce intensity and frequency of human-tiger encounters to great lengths.”
The latest tiger census shows the number of tigers in Chandrapur is estimated to be 248, of which the identification of 198 individuals has been verified through camera-traps. The number of confirmed tigers in Gadchiroli is 27. Both Chandrapur and Gadchiroli districts are home to several protected areas, including the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR). Improved conservation programmes and a significant reduction in poaching activities have helped increase the number of tigers here. However, deforestation due to encroachment, land-use change, and infrastructure building has fragmented forests and damaged wildlife corridors. Moreover, the abundance of prey in the form of stray cattle appears to have accelerated tiger breeding.
River Wainganga divides the two districts. The surplus tigers from Chandrapur are crossing the river to find habitat in the western part of Gadchiroli, where forests are fragmented due to expanding villages, farms, canals, railway lines, roads, and different kinds of encroachments. The situation in western Gadchiroli is similar to that in Bramhapuri, as tigers are surviving primarily on cattle. Both districts have lost a sizable chunk of green cover, the 2021 India State of Forest Report (ISFR) confirms. Rapid deforestation is turning swathes of forests into fragmented, small patches, which affects the movement and migration of tigers.
“The last fatality in a tiger attack occurred in December 2022. There has not been any such incident since then. Our forest staff keep watch if any tiger is seen near villages,” said Kishor Mankar, Conservator of Forest, Gadchiroli. There are 3 sub-adults and 20 cubs, besides 27 tiger adults, in Gadchiroli, Mankar added. Gadchiroli did not have records of more than two tigers until 2018. After the forests in Chandrapur were saturated, additional tigers have migrated to Gadchiroli in the past few years and adapted to the present-day conditions.
Increasing encounters between tigers and humans
The surplus tigers are finding habitat in non-forest areas, near human settlements in both Chandrapur and Gadchiroli. All this is leading to frequent encounters between tigers and humans. People are angry over frequent tiger attacks and have been asking the forest department to capture the tigers. Barring very few cases, villagers have shown restraint and did not resort to attacking tigers yet. However, villagers remain in fear. “There has been no tiger attack for two months now. But the situation remains tense,” Nilesh Dakote, deputy sarpanch of Gogaon village in Gadchiroli, said. “People are scared when they go to farms or travel after dark. It is frustrating. The forest department must do something.”
The locals have suggested capturing every tiger in the vicinity of villages or building fences surrounding villages. The forest department seems to have no viable measure in its arsenal to reduce human-animal conflict. It however ensures victims or their relatives get monetary assistance in time.”
We cannot do much unless a specific tiger is declared problematic,” a senior forest official, who did not wish to be named, told Mongabay-India “What we can do is increase awareness among people about how to avoid encounters with tigers. If we want to protect wildlife corridors and ensure its intact and undisturbed, it cannot be done by the forest department alone. It needs cooperation from different agencies,” the forest official added.
Banner image: A tiger at at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Chandrapur. Photo by Akshit Deshlande/Wikimedia Commons.