The tiger, which had killed three people and cattle and terrorised Kodagu, has been declared dead by the forest department. Forest department officials recently confirmed that the same tiger who had caused fear and anger among the residents in the last one month, is dead after a rotting tiger carcass was found in the Nagarahole tiger reserve limits, said an Indian Express report.
The carcass of the tiger was quickly burnt by the forest department following a post-mortem by officials. However, the farmers and residents of the area are not completely convinced of the tiger’s identity since it cannot be matched with a rotting carcass.
But the Chief Conservator of Forests, Takhat Singh Ranawat, has told reporters that the skin pattern on the carcass found near Nagarahole limits matched the stripe pattern of the identified male tiger in Kodagu that had claimed three human lives. The carcass also had a few pellet shots that was probably from the gunshots fired by the sharpshooters during the tiger capture operation at Belluru, he added. The male tiger which was found was 12-years-old and had a lot of injuries.
Residents, angry with the forest department over the delay in catching the tiger, are still sceptical. They want the forest department to continue its combing operations across the affected villages.
The complex issue of recurring man-animal conflicts in Kodagu district was strongly taken up by two Kodagu MLAs in the Karnataka state Assembly earlier this month, after the tiger had mauled and killed four people in the area. The state government had already issued a shoot-at-sight order for the big cat, when an 8-year-old boy, Rangaswamy was killed and his grandfather, Kencha, a plantation worker seriously injured at Belluru village in south Kodagu on March 8.
This was the third death due to the tiger attack in a matter of 14 days. On February 20, a 60-year-old estate labourer and a 10-year old boy were killed by the tiger in T Shettigeri and Kumturu villages in Kodagu district. The forest department had captured a tigress in Manchalli village the next day and declared it to be the man-eater. However, this fatal attack on Rangaswamy proved that the tiger was still on the prowl.
Bringing up this issue in the Legislative Assembly, K G Bopaiah, a BJP MLA from Virajpet, criticised the state forest department for not being able to capture the “man-eating animal”. He threw a challenge on the floor of the state Assembly stating that if the forest department was unable to catch or kill the man-eating animal, they would take “necessary action”.
“We will kill and marry the tiger,” declared Bopaiah, The Indian Express reported. Bopaiah was reportedly referring to the ‘Nari Mangala’ tradition of the Kodava community when he made this statement.
Appachu Ranjan, another MLA, who represents the Madikeri constituency, concurred with Bopaiah. “The animal has already killed four people in the district. We will kill that tiger if you (forest department) cannot,” he said.
However, Arvind Limbavali, Karnataka’s Minister for Forests, Kannada and Culture departments, reassured them that the forest department is “putting in all possible effort to stop the predator.” And added, that he had instructed the forest department officials to shoot the animal.
India actually has a strict wildlife protection law implemented in 1972 that makes it virtually illegal to kill or capture wild animals, even when “problem animals” are involved in severe conflict situations.
Nari Mangala tradition of the Kodavas
KG Bopaiah’s reference to ‘killing and marrying the tiger’ is apparently linked to an old, unique Kodava tradition called ‘Nari Mangala’, where the hunter who kills the tiger is married to the soul of the animal.
Though, the custom has been discontinued long ago to discourage hunting down animals, the warrior Kodava community used to practice it with fanfare in the past. Whenever a tiger was hunted down and killed, the villagers would carry the animal’s carcass in a procession to ‘Mandu’, a place in every village in Kodagu to celebrate.
“The man who first shot the tiger and the one who first touched its tail were treated like heroes. The king used to reward these men with silver bangles,” explained Kodava Sahitya Academy former president Bacharaniyanada Appanna.
Rituals were held to honour the man who killed the tiger and the festivities would end with a Kodava dance around the tiger’s carcass.
Increasing malaise of man-animal conflict
Of late, Kodagu, the green, scenic district, known for its coffee plantations, has been facing many instances of man-animal conflict, evoking fear and anger among its residents. At least 16 animals and three humans have been killed by the tiger on the prowl in the last one month. And, locals have been protesting against the forest department and legislators for having “failed” to control the escalating number of man-animal conflicts.
People criticised the forest department for not being able to capture this particular tiger in February itself. The tiger had reportedly migrated from Nagarahole Tiger reserve and all efforts to tranquilise the animal had been futile and coffee plantation workers in south Kodagu are now reportedly frightened for their lives.
The conflict between freely roving tigers and local people is not new. Back in November 2018, a tigress, Avni which had allegedly killed 14 people was shot dead by a sharpshooter, who was hired for the purpose, in Maharashtra. At that time, animal activists like Maneka Gandhi had termed the killing as “nothing but a straight case of crime”. While animal rights groups had said that it was all about “satisfying the hunter’s lust for blood”.
India is home to 60% of the world’s wild tigers, and has been praised world-wide for its success story in tiger conservation. Tiger numbers have seen a healthy uptick since 2006, when India increased investments to hire more forest guards, improve protection of reserves and promote voluntary village relocation.
Conservationists and experts believed that one of the reasons for more recent human-tiger conflict is that India has too many tigers and too few forests that can sustain them.
Unless India expands tiger reserves and areas protected for tigers, such conflicts will continue to happen. And, wildlife and forest officials will face flak from both animal activists and affected villagers, when they decide to put down “man-eating” tigers.