While the urbanised elite of the country is preoccupied with politics, fashion and so on, a silent terror lurks in rural India. Hunting, although illegal, still thrives in many parts of the country as people enter animal territory looking for the spoils of fauna. The animals, desperate and forced to share resources with people, often lash out, leading to conflicts. More modern activities such as mining also threaten forests. In light of reports of attacks and deaths, Tehelka traversed the borders of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh which have been affected by the human-animal conflict.
Bordering the Chhattisgarh border, Bandhavgarh National Park is known for its tigers. Close to the national park, in the northern part of Chhattisgarh, comprising districts such as Dharamjaigarh, Jashpur, Raigarh and Korba make up a vital part of the Elephant corridor originating at Odisha. Incidentally, these districts of Chhattisgarh are also famous for a large number of mines.
Bandhavgarh is a popular tourist spot for nature enthusiasts from around the world. In the year 2009-10, Indian tourist numbered 10,72,841 and 70,805 foreign tourists visited according to reports by the Madhya Pradesh government. This national park has been divided into five zones, namely Magdhi, Khitauli, Tala, Kallawah and Panpatha. Out of these five, the first three are open to tourists and currently, most of the tiger sightings are said to be in the Magdhi zone.
In 2012, the population of tigers was 22 and spread over a total area of 105 sq km core zone and 400 sq km buffer zone of Tala. The sarpanch of Tala village says, “The tigresses that have their territories close to the boundaries of the forest depend on cattle for feeding their cubs which results in either human or animal death. There are four to five deaths every year due to this reason.”
The last known incident of human-tiger conflict occurred on 29 March 2015 where timber smugglers poached a tiger cub. The mahua or the honey tree fruit collecting season is when most episodes take place.
The tiger is only one part of the equation. According to the sarpanch, “sloth bears are more dangerous than any other animal. The honey tree (mahua) is a staple diet for the sloth bears and when they see a human bending over to collect the fruit, they attack.” In another incident, a man bathing in a pond was killed by a wild boar.
“The conflict erupts over sharing of the same resources such as a lake or the mahua tree,” says Abhinav Sarkar, (name changed) manager of a well-known resort in Bandhavgarh. According to Sarkar, tigers never choose to attack and it is only when their lifestyle is disturbed that they make violent advances on people. However, the government officials here do take the necessary precautions. As Sarkar tells Tehelka, “In the Khitauli region, tiger cubs had started to roam around the entire village leading to mass protests. The government took action and shifted those cubs to the Magdhi region.”
Resultantly, the conflicts seem to have reduced. Devendra Tanwar, (name changed) a wildlife enthusiast and activist says, “There were no attacks in this mahua season in the regions open for tourists.” When questioned about the poaching of the tiger cub, he says, “They (the smugglers) enter into regions that are not open for people which in itself is an illegal act.”
The sarpanch however, feels that these incidents have affected the economy of the village. “Only 20 percent of the park is now open to tourists. This has resulted in a lesser number coming to Bandhavgarh. Nobody can peacefully carry out farming due to animal interference. The people used to come for work to Bandhavgarh, they have now started to leave for bigger cities for means of subsistence.” The Sub Divisional Officer (SDO) of Bandhavgarh was however, unavailable for comment.
Situated in the northern region of the state of Chhattisgarh, the Kartala forest region forms a part of the Korba division and is known for elephant-human conflicts. In 2000, after the floods in Odisha, four elephants migrated to Chhattisgarh and since the environment and topography of the area suited them well, they stayed on. The District Forest Officer (DFO) of Korba tells Tehelka that there are 120 elephants in the area today.