In Uttar Pradesh,they have come to be known as sugarcane tigers,but the problem is as serious as the nickname is cute. Tigers have been straying from the forests that should be their home and crossing over into thick sugarcane fields. The outcome has already been tragic. Last year,one man-eater which strayed out to Faizabad from Pilibhit,a proposed tiger reserve in UP,has been condemned to death by the Forest Department,another tiger recently also strayed out from the Pilibhit-Dudhwa corridor,killing one person in a sugarcane field . These incidents point towards the poor management of Pilibhit.
The issue here,says the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA),is that tigers have become habituated to region-specific,man-made habitats dense sugarcane fields,in this case,which provide refuge to them and may encourage them to stray out of tiger reserves. Currently,as many as three tigers have strayed out from forests and are attacking human beings in UP,a situation that is assuming more and more serious dimensions each day.
NTCA has now decided on providing funding for region-specific landscape management,which will include attempting to change crop patterns from sugarcane to other crops in a defined area around tiger reserves. If such planning had been done earlier,the current situation could have been averted. Pilibhit,which has a resident tiger population,received in-principle approval for becoming a tiger reserve last year. But no Tiger Conservation Plan for the area a crucial step towards becoming a tiger reserve has been firmed up by the state yet. Further,Dudhwa,UPs existing tiger reserve,has not notified its core tiger reserve area,a mandatory action that was declared in 2006 following an Amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act.
Dudhwa is connected via a narrow forest passage to Pilibhit. Both areas are prone to disturbance. The tiger in Faizabad travelled close to 500 km from Pilibhit to Lucknow to its current location. The second tiger that strayed is from Pilibhit-Dudhwa area but is now in Bahraich area near North Kheri. The third tiger,perhaps from Palamau in Jharkhand,is near Varanasi.
Keeping in mind the severe man-animal conflict in the state,the NTCA is releasing Rs 30 lakh for landscape management in the state. This will include training villagers to attempt changing cropping patterns and planting crops where tigers will not take refuge,to prevent the phenomenon of sugarcane tigers.
We have to create situations where we can avoid tigers getting habituated to man-made conditions like sugarcane fields. We will rope in an organisation like the Wildlife Institute of India to formulate a region-specific plan for the area and help change cropping patterns in a designated area around the reserve. In UP,region-specific plans are crucial given the current scenario, NTCA member secretary Rajesh Gopal says.
As reported in The Indian Express,NTCA had intervened in December in the UP Forest Departments decision to kill the Faizabad tiger,which has been eluding the Forest Department for more than two months,and has made at least two human kills. We have given all advice to UP for tranquilising and capturing the animal. Ultimately,it is up to the state to take a decision on public safety. However,when a disturbed animal is on the loose,a curfew-like situation has to be imposed and people have to be instructed not to step out of their homes, Gopal says.
But changing the landscape presents its own share of problems. Sugarcane is a cash crop and most of the fields around Dudhwa-Pilibhit grow sugarcane. Recently four to five new sugar factories have come up near Dudhwa-Pilibhit. They provide advance money and good prices to farmers. Whatever plan is implemented to prevent tigers going inside sugarcane fields has to have a long term perspective, says Dudhwa Deputy Director P P Singh.