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'We are Helpless': 1 Dead in Tiger Attack in Village Near Corbett National Park

Wildlife officials told me that the tiger was eventually tracked, tranquilised, and sent to a rehabilitation centre.

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A deadly tiger attack last week on a woman in Chukam village near Corbett National Park has triggered alarm, the third such attack by wild cats in India’s largest reserve.

The woman had gone to the forest for morning ablutions around 0600 hours. The tiger, claimed villagers, had strayed close to the village, killed a cow the previous night, and then attacked the woman in the morning. And then the tiger dragged the body to deep forests.

The villagers blocked traffic in the area, impacting movement to some areas of the reserve. 

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Wildlife officials told this reporter that the tiger was eventually tracked, tranquilised and sent to a rehabilitation centre. The wild cat devoured some portions of the body but officials said it was too early to declare the animal a maneater.

A suitable compensation will be paid to the family of the woman, the officials further said.

Located close to the Kosi River, Chukam village falls inside the Mohaan range of the forest. The area is also home to a large number of tourist bungalows. The attack has created panic among the villagers, and also tour operators.

“We are helpless. We do not have electric fences to barricade our village. We are keeping a round-the-clock watch. That’s all we can do,” Jassi Ram, head sarpanch, Chukam village, said in a telephonic interview.

Ram said this was the second such attack in the village in a year. Last January, a woman was killed and portions of her body were devoured by a tiger near the village. 

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Tour operators and hotel owners are, expectedly, worried. “The tiger came very close to the zone where hotels and lodges are located. We have put some restrictions in place,” said Ashok Singh, manager of a hotel in Mohaan district which is close to the Chukam village. 

An estimated 150-plus hotels and resorts surround Corbett. Experts have blamed it on unplanned tourism. As a result, the habitat of the wild cats is shrinking fast.

Seasoned tiger expert Raghu Chundawat said it is high time the government formulates a strategy to avoid man-animal conflict. “The villagers must be relocated, else such attacks will continue to happen,” Chundawat said in an interview.

Dr Ullas Karanth, another tiger expert, said increased patrolling must be done in the reserve and safari jeeps must have armed guards. “India must do some serious ecological audits to understand why human settlements near protected nature reserves must be removed," said Dr Karanth, adding: “And maneater tigers must be shot dead.”

In November last, two Nepali workers were killed near the Dhikala zone inside the Corbett inside the forest. 

Dhikala, interestingly, is the last outpost in the wildlife reserve that is open to visitors. A portion of one of the victims was devoured by a pack of four tigers, Corbett officials said, adding it was just too premature to declare the wild cats maneaters. The officials said the pack of tigers were distinctly different from the ones which attacked and killed some people in the fall of 2022 and in January 2023.

Severe restrictions have been imposed by authorities on the movement of safari vehicles in Corbett Tiger Reserve after the attacks. Now, tourist vehicles have been barred from travelling through the expansive grasslands in the 521 sq km reserve. 

The grasslands, an open land of wild grass next to the Ramganga River, are the best places to spot tigers, elephants and other wild animals and migratory birds. There are an estimated 260 tigers in Corbett which comprises 1,288 sq km of dense forest, including adjacent protected areas. Only 15 per cent of the forests are open to tourists. With 14 big cats every 100 sq km, Corbett has the highest tiger density among all of India’s 53 tiger reserves.

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India’s tiger population rose to 2,967 in 2018, about 700 more than in 2014. India is home to more than half of the world's 3,900 tigers living in the wild.

The December 2023 attack happened when as many as four tigers attacked the labourers. Wildlife officials in Dhikala rushed to the spot and opened fire and burst crackers to disperse the wild cats and retrieve the body of the worker. By the time the body was recovered, the tigers had eaten a portion of the hips.

The tigers - three males and one female - involved in the attack are litters of a tigress who was named by wildlife officials as Ghaswali sherni because she mostly stayed in the grasslands next to Dhikala. But recently, her litter pushed the tigress away from the area.

Both attacks happened right outside the electrically fenced Dhikala, full of tourists all the time. Luckily the electric gates were closed and the wild cats could not enter the tourist hub. Worse, the fact that the tigers have tasted blood is not good news for the reserve.

In another incident, a huge tiger shocked many near the Garjia Devi temple close to Ramnagar town when it walked into a village, stayed for some hours and then crossed the main thoroughfare to return to the reserve. Rattled villagers have hired guards to keep them safe from the wild cats. 

In other incidents, tigers killed two people in December 2023 in Bandhavgarh Reserve in Madhya Pradesh. On both occasions, the wild cats entered villages and picked up people from their homes.

“Tigers have never entered homes. We are seriously contemplating relocating the villagers,” Madhav Singh, a senior wildlife officer, said in a telephonic interview.

However, relocating villagers is not an easy task.

As many as seven people have been killed by tigers in Bandhavgarh from October to November 2023. The December killings have taken the total to nine. The Bandhavgarh tiger reserve is spread across 1536 sq. km and has 165 wild cats.

(Shantanu Guha Ray is the Asia Editor of Central European News, UK and Zenger News, US. He is also a columnist with Moneycontrol. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Tiger 

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