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Tiger Tales – Bandhavgarh

 
May 2011

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If you thought that only human beings fought among each other over rights of land ownership, you are grossly mistaken. Land disputes, claiming land rights and acquisition of land by force is not restricted to humans only. The biggest member of the cat family – the tiger, is also endowed with these vices. Interestingly, tigers are not social animals. Each adult tiger requires a marked territory of his/her own and no other tiger has access in that territory. The territorial boundary of a tiger is marked by claw marks on tree trunks. These marks act as a signal to other tigers that they are in occupied territory, if they dare to intrude, either purposefully or by mistake. Intrusion leads to territorial fights among two tigers, that could lead to serious injuries or can turn fatal. Sometimes the vengeance is so intense, the hatred so strong, that the winning tiger kills the other and eats it. Cannibalism is not very common among tigers, but at the same time is not something that is not heard of. As there is no dearth of prey in the forests of central India, hunger is definitely not a cause of cannibalism among tigers.

The Bamera male at Bandhavgarh

The Bamera male at Bandhavgarh


The only time two adult tigers are seen together are during mating – for a few days. Once mating is over, each tiger returns back to their own marked and acquired territory. Even during the mating period, there is no sharing of food. They kill separately, there is no sharing of kill, whatever be the extent of passion flowing between them.
Cubs, once born, are taken care by the mother only. In rare cases, the father has been seen with the family for short duration. Till the cubs grow into adults, which is almost two years, they remain with their mother, feeding on the kills of their mother. After that, each one ventures out on their own, identifying their territory and claiming possession over it. This might not be as easily done as said, as it might involve vicious fighting capturing the area from another tiger.
Bamera male approaches a sleeping Kankati

Bamera male approaches a sleeping Kankati


All this and a deep insight into the life of the almost extinct animal was acquired in my recent trip to Bandhavgarh. A no-frills trip with some like minded friends – Dr Abheek Ghosh, Rajan Khinkhide, Adwait Mahajan, Nitish Mahajan, Saran and Safique Hazarika. All of them hard-core forest lovers with Abheek leading a NGO in Nagur for the betterment and conservation of forests and wild life and everybody associated with it. They had come from all corners of the country – Chennai, Mumbai, Nagpur and myself from Kolkata.

Is everything right in Bandhavgarh?

Bandhavgarh National Park is today one of the prime centres of tiger tourism. With a very high tiger density, the probability of tiger sighting is very high in this national park. But not without a cost. And this might lead to the destruction of more tigers in the near future. With an area of 448 sq Km, Bhandhavgarh has become too crowded from the predators.

Post mating - Kankati and Bamera male

Post mating - Kankati and Bamera male


Without sufficient habitable area, territorial fights among tigers is on the increase. Many tigers have died due to in-fighting among the tigers, some of them have mysteriously disappeared after having been ousted from their base territory by a stronger one of the species. Many cubs have lost their lives to stronger adults, as some grown-ups prefer to get rid of future rivals while they are young.

A couple of days after we left Bandhavgarh, a female cub was found dead, with its hind portion eaten. Though the reason was death was not identified, it was assumed that this gruesome act was the handiwork of an adult male. We were lucky to see a mating pair while in Bandhavgarh. The female named Kankati (one of her ear lobes is mutilated) also has a dubious past – she fought with her sister over territory acquisition and won over her in a gruelling fight on a cold winter night. Her sister was killed and Kankati went ahead and devoured half of her sister. So intense is the struggle for survival in tiger land!!

Another disturbing fact is the location of some of the habitations around the park. While in the park and in your safari vehicle, there is a small stretch where you can look up and see villagers doing their daily chores – separated from the forest by a stone wall boundary which can be climbed easily by any human being. So its left to one’s imagination whether the wild predators can cross the fence, if required. Project Tiger was started in 1973, but still there are habitations just beside the core forest area, separated by a flimsy boundary wall. Its bad for the predators and the villagers. The predators find easy food by killing cattle, the villagers live in constant fear about their lives and their domesticated animals. Compensation given by the forest department for the cattle killed by tigers, but according to many that is far below the market price. So it has become a practice for some to poison the old cattle and leave it to be fed by the tigers, and as a chain reaction, poisoning and killing the tigers. Human-animal conflict has manifested its ugly face throughout the country in recent times and Bandhavgarh is no exception. My feeling is that more needs to be done on this front, the administration has to be pro-active and be more sensitive to the real needs of the people who have been earning their livelihood for generations from forest products. Unless some urgent measures are taken ASAP, it is not far when India will be without any major stretches of forests.

Latest Update

Bisons relocated from  Kanha - facing challenge from the tigers

Bisons relocated from Kanha - facing challenge from the tigers


I started writing this quite some time back – and since then there has been some incidents which I feel I should update in this article. The first update is about a female cub being killed and eaten by another tiger (this I have mentioned earlier). The second update is that two of the Mirchiani sub-adult cubs are on a human killing spree. As of today (8th July, 2011), there has been three killings and the last one person killed been eaten by the tiger. The two cubs have been removed from the forest and moved to Bhopal Zoo. This was waiting to happen any day – and one needs to visit Bandhavgarh and see the area that was the habitat of the Mirchiani family. It is adjacent to a boundary wall and people living on the other side within a distance of 50m of the wall.
Will this man-animal conflict continue or will we be able to come to a feasible solution? Personally, I am pessimistic on this issue and think that wild life will perish sooner or later due to lack of natural habitat.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Dr. A Ghosh said:

    A well researched and riveting writeup Kausikda.
    There have been further developments beyond what you have reported here. The Mirchiani cubs have been relocated to Bhopal zoo after being banded man eaters after a spate of human attacks. Female cub of Sukhi Patiya is dead. Jhurjhura killers are scot free after destruction of evidence by unknown parties. Sheila Masood – a wildlife activist who was spearheading the Justice for Jhurjhura cause and making all the right noises and ruffling feathers was shot dead a week back. Chorbehera cubs are also on a cattle killing spree and the villages want them removed to the zoo also. The future look bleak for bandhavgad unless some drastic purging happens by HIS will somehow. My 2 cents.

    Here’s my analysis of Bandhavgad : http://www.indiamike.com/india/indian-wildlife-and-national-parks-f74/ambushing-a-tiger-story-of-a-teamwork-with-2-gypsies-and-what-ails-bandhavgad-today-t138677/#post1211093 This analysis is also outdated and the latest incidences are not included in this.

    Dr. A Ghosh
    Wildcats Foundation, Nagpur
    +919960332228

    Posted on August 24th, 2011 at 7:29 am

  2. admin said:

    Abheek,
    Yes, things are not going well for Bhandhavgarh. Irony is that the attitude of the administration everywhere is the same – so this can happen to any other park any time. The killing of Sheila Masood will induct fear among many similar activists. From Mukesh’s FB posting, I find that at least on two occasions, tiger ventured out on the streets, killed goats and ate them there. (I think one was in front of Taj Resort). This gives out not-so-good signals.
    Have been following your posts on Bandhavgarh – but a lot of bad things has happened there in the few months since our trip in May. Only can hope for better times, but good times will not come unless everybody sits up and takes drastic steps.

    Posted on August 25th, 2011 at 9:48 am

  3. Anusia said:

    Thanks for sharing the information. It was really interesting to know such facts as it was very informative.

    Posted on October 8th, 2014 at 10:48 am

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