Before anybody scoffs at the above title, let me assure you that it has been taken from a true incident which occurred recently on the outskirts of the world famous Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand. That it largely went unnoticed in the media should not take away from the seriousness of the situation which has been developing in and around our wildlife reserves all over the country.
Rather, the incident is an alarming reflection of not just the recurring man-animal conflicts but also of our inability to understand and tackle the situation. In most cases it’s our precious wildlife which finds itself in a tight corner.
In this particular case, a young, two-year-old tiger ventured into a private hotel near the Corbett Tiger Reserve.
It was in the early hours of June 10 that the hotel staff near Dhikuli came across fresh pugmarks of a tiger in the premises. The marks left no doubt who they belonged to and understandably panic broke out in minutes.
At the time, the hotel was brimming with guests but surprisingly, none of them, not even the guards, saw the big cat entering the building, without completing any of the registration formalities at the reception!
The pandemonium which broke loose in the hotel soon engulfed the entire area. A forest team, led by the tiger reserve’s field director Mr Samir Sinha, was quick to arrive, followed by dozens of police personnel, to keep the onlookers at bay — because within minutes, hundreds of people had gathered outside the hotel.
The search for the tiger went on for five hours but it could not be found. The exasperated forest and police teams returned to their respective offices, the crowd too was dispersed and things became normal. “Perhaps it was a wrong alarm call, perhaps it had left the hotel premises,’’ some of them reasoned. But the presence of the tiger’s pugmarks in the hotel premises was a cause of extreme alarm and caution.
However, at around 4 pm, a hotel bell-boy entered the laundry room and ran out screaming. He had seen a tiger crouching beneath a huge transformer! Once again, the forest team rushed to the hotel and this time the officials managed to tranquilise the tiger. The unconscious big cat was quickly pushed in a cage, which in turn was put atop a truck and the vehicle driven down into the tiger reserve. It was set free near the Sarpdauli Range.
One may say all’s well that ends well but I would beg to differ in this particular case. For one, I am informed that the young tigress might still have been with her mother and the region (Sarpdauli), where she was let off, forms the territory of two adult tigresses — one of which is a mother of two small cubs.
Tigers are fiercely territorial creatures — meaning they would fight to the death to save their territory from an “outsider’’ tiger. In the present case, the traumatised young tigress will have to compete with not one but two landladies. Going by her age and lack of experience (her inadvertent entry into the hotel being one such sign), it’s unlikely that she would be any match for the seasoned resident tigresses of Sarpdauli. I will not go so far to suggest that her fate is sealed — because, in the end, all tigers are master survivors, even in worst case scenarios. But certainly, the odds are not in her favour at the moment.
Incidentally, this particular hotel in Dhikuli — or for that matter most hotels here — are situated quite close to Sunderkhal, which you will remember from one of my earlier articles, has become notorious for frequent tiger attacks on humans. The scenario points at the disturbing trend of tigers beginning to lose their fear of humans. Add to this the fact that in the past three years Corbett Tiger Reserve has seen a tremendous rise in the numbers of its tigers. After the inevitable territorial fights, the losers — now forced to come out of the forest cover — are inching towards human habitations. This is not a sign of things yet to come but a manifestation of things which have already started happening — the recent hotel incident being a case in point.
I remember, till as late as 1985, the entire road from Ramanpur to Dhangarhi gate was a corridor for animals. Ringore, Dhikuli, Garjia and Sunderkhal and the valleys of Uttarakhand had few houses, and crossing the road, one would often encounter wild elephants. Most of the land was allotted to the poor landless from the hills under Verge 4 but without ownership titles. The rest of the land along river Kosi and Ramapar Ranikhet Road was partly encroached along the forest and the river bank and partly by the original inhabitants of Dhikuli village. The entire Sunderkhal village is now encroached forest land.
In the 90s, the land ownership rights were given to these landless allotees and it took no time for them to sell the land to hoteliers at exorbitant rates, which even matched the rates of developed hotel sites in Delhi. The result is that the entire contiguous corridor of wildlife between Rampur Fort Division and Corbett National Park has been cut off. Animals cannot go to river Kosi to quench their thirst even in peak summer as these hotels have completely blocked their right of way. I am not against tourism but this uncontrolled commercialisation has led to the compulsive and erratic behaviour of these animals.
So what’s the best way to stop tigers and humans from getting on a collision course? I am convinced several holistic measures need to be initiated, with emphasis on protecting the interests of all the concerned parties. One way would be to set up more animal corridors. The immediate task is to relocate the entire Sunderkhal village, which, for over three decades now, has been illegally blocking the prime tiger and elephant corridor between the Corbett Tiger Reserve and the Ramnagar Forest Division. Umpteen efforts have been made in this direction — even by major political parties — but all of these eventually fell flat. The time has now come to bell the cat.
For more stories and films on wildlife by the author which have run on National Geographic channel, Doordarshan National channel and Doordarshan India, please log on to www.rahejagroup.org