While the search for hunting down a supposed man-eater in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu enters the second week, conservationists say it is high time the state set up rescue and rehabilitation centres for animals in distress.
“Tamil Nadu doesn’t have any such rescue and rehabilitation centre. It is only now that a team has been formed by the state forest department, but no centre is in place yet,” said K Kalidasan, founder, Osai, an organisation working for the cause of conservation in Coimbatore.
Kalidasan said there should be dedicated centres in Nilgiris and Valparai. “In Kerala, such a centre is in place at Wayanad. The wildlife personnel too are trained and well-equipped in rescue operations. We need to learn from them,” Kalidasan said.
The tiger, called ‘Mudumalai Division Tiger – 23’ (MDT 23), is believed to have killed a 55-year-old man in Gudalur division of forest in Nilgiris district on September 24. In the following days it was said the beast has killed three more people and nearly 20 cattle. Such human-animal conflict has increased in the areas like Nilgiris and Valparai in Coimbatore district, which are located closer to forests.
There is, however, another thought that MDT 23 is not so deadly as it is being projected. Only two people were killed by the tiger and deaths of two others are based on speculations, they say. “Scientifically, there are many ways to establish if a kill has been made by a tiger (or other wild animal). During the post mortem, it will be important to collect as much genetic evidence (especially from the bite mark) to test and ascertain it was a tiger (or any other animal was responsible). Also, secondary evidence such as tiger paw prints (pug marks) etc present at the scene should be documented carefully,” said Abishek Harihar, assistant director, Panthera Tiger Programme, US. If the community says that even one person has been killed by the tiger, then there should be no delay in confirming the cause of death and safeguarding the community from further conflicts, he added.
Kalidasan believes that it is possible to know if a person has been killed by a tiger or a leopard by looking at the carcass.
How to decide a tiger has turned ‘man-eater’
K. Ullas Karanth, a well-known authority on tigers, said the government has many protocols, most of which are not implementable. “A true man-eater is a tiger that has lost its fear of human beings and is stalking and hunting them and consuming them if allowed to do so. Accidental maulings or killings by cornered tigers do not make it a man-eater. Such tigers continue to avoid people and be afraid of them,” he said.
The National Tiger Conservation authority (NTCA) has specific guidelines for declaring man-eaters. They say, “Even if enough evidence has not come forth to establish an animal as a man-eater, but there are definite grounds to suspect after one human kill that the animal has the tendency to turn into a menace, steps should be taken to trap it. Trapping of panthers will not be difficult, but may be so in the case of tigers. Efforts to tranquilise such animals should start immediately.”
“Before killing a human, if the tiger was involved in the killing of livestock, it is critical to ensure that all procedures, as outlined by NTCA, have been followed,” said Harihar, who is also a researcher at Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru.
To kill or not to kill
Meanwhile, some animal welfare activists in Tamil Nadu are opposed to the decision to kill the tiger. They even filed a petition in the Madras High Court to prevent the killing. While, People for Cattle in India, Chennai filed one petition, Uttar Pradesh based animal activist Sangeeta Dogra filed another petition. The court is to hear the petitions on October 5.
To the question of whether a tiger can be released into wild or relocated to another area after it is declared as a man-eater, Karanth said most relocations have failed and led to deaths of humans as well as tigers.
“It is a poor management practice,” he lamented. “If it is man-eater, it has to be killed as quickly as possible,” added Karanth.
Harihar added that if the tiger is very used to human presence, it is better not to release it into the wild.