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31 killed in tiger attacks across Maharashtra in 2020, highest in a year since 2010

Tigers killed 31 people in Maharashtra in 2020, the highest in a year over the past decade, with a total of 153 humans being killed in the state by the wild cats since 2010. The state also witnessed most human deaths (57) in wild animal attacks, equalling the previous high of 2016, during the first nine months of this year. A total of 467 people have been killed by wild animals in Maharashtra between 2010 and 2020, revealed data from the state forest department.

The incidents of humans losing life in tiger attacks have risen five times over the past decade, with 2010 witnessing 5 deaths, which gradually rose to 24 in 2017 and 2019, the previous high before this year (see box).

Recent data tabled before the Lok Sabha by the Union environment ministry showed that Maharashtra also had the highest annual deaths due to human-tiger conflict in India since 2014.

“The rise in tiger population, both inside and outside protected areas in Maharashtra, is the primary reason for the in human deaths,” said Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), Maharashtra, adding that other factors could include forest fragmentation outside protected areas, rise in tiger numbers dispersing from one protected area to another, increased human activity in forest areas (agriculture, cattle grazing, firewood collection) or linear infrastructure or irrigation projects within the tiger landscape.

Tiger population in Maharashtra has increased from 103 in 2006 to 168 in 2010, 190 in 2014 and 312 as per the latest assessment in 2018-19. “The problem is basically in Chandrapur, and a recent increase in incidents is being witnessed around Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Yavatmal,” said Kishor Rithe, member, State Board of Wildlife (SBWL).

Forest patches of Chandrapur district are home to 175 of the 312 tigers in the state, accounting for 56% of estimated tiger numbers, with 82 found in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, 23 in Central Chanda, 31 across Chandrapur forest areas, including Pandharkawada, and 39 in Brahmapuri. The district reported just five deaths in 2016, which shot up to 11 in 2017, 17 in 2018, 24 in 2019 and this year so far 26 of the 31 deaths in Maharashtra have been reported from this district.

To avoid human-tiger conflict in Chandrapur, the SBWL during its 15th meeting on August 7, recommended the formation of a committee to study and deliberate measures to reduce the population of tigers. “It was highlighted that there have been more than 150 deaths in Chandrapur between 2007 and 2020, and with over 50% of the state’s tiger population in one district, the situation is worrisome. We have submitted a proposal to the state for a committee formation. An announcement is expected soon, ”said Kakodkar.

Apart from Chandrapur, one death each was reported from Yavatmal, Gondia, Gadchiroli, Bhandara and Nagpur districts this year. The eastern Vidarbha landscape has a forest cover of 22,508 sqkm and the human population there is 1.45 crore.

During the lockdown phase (March-May), Maharashtra witnessed 11 deaths, including those of Mahua flower and tendu leaf collectors entering forest buffer areas as well as core zones. So far, five tigers involved in conflict have been captured, including one each from Yavatmal and Gondia, and the remaining from Chandrapur. Operations are underway to capture another tiger (RT1) at Rajura in central Chanda division since February. The wild cat has killed six villagers and has been eluding traps.

"Higher conflict is owing to higher number of animals in the landscape. Immediate solution is capturing tigers, as human life is precious. For the long term, a proper policy decision followed by management is needed, ”said Bilal Habib, tiger scientist, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.

“This rise in conflict was expected and the trend is expected to be similar, if not higher, in coming years with a sizeable number of tigers on one hand combined with more tribal settlements inching closer to forest areas or encroachments getting aligned along the periphery of protected zones, ”said Nitin Desai, director (central India), Wildlife Protection Society of India.

Other experts said infrastructure projects, rise in human and cattle population, and fragmented forests interspersed with roads were a major cause for concern for dispersing tigers. “There is a need for declaring more protected areas (conservation and community reserves) and involve more people through eco-tourism. Or else, the antagonism will continue and both tigers and people will suffer, ”said Bivash Pandav, WII scientist, and director, Bombay Natural History Society.

SP Yadav, member secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority, said, “Maharashtra has not approached us for any assistance so far. Once we receive a proposal, we can provide all technical assistance, advice, and any other requirement to deal with this matter. "

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