‘It’s like a lockdown’: Kodagu residents stay indoor as tiger continues to be elusive

Three persons, including 14-year-old and 12-year-old boys, were mauled to death in February-March in Ponnampet taluk of Kodagu in Karnataka
Written by :

Tension has gripped the residents of southern Kodagu in Karnataka over an elusive tiger that is speculated to be roaming in Srimangala hobili in Ponnampet taluk. On Monday, the tiger mauled a 12-year-old boy to death. Businesses resorted to a voluntary shutdown on Thursday in protest against the alleged inaction by the authorities in capturing the tigers in the region. Members of the Karnataka Raitha Sangha (a pan-Karnataka farmers association) also staged an overnight dharna on the Karnataka-Kerala border, urging forest officials to intensify their measures. Ponnampet, like the rest of the Kodagu district, is a tourist destination and is dotted with coffee plantations.

Big cats have mauled three persons over 20 days in February-March 2021, while another person was grievously injured following an attack by a tiger. In addition to the attacks on humans, a dozen cattle, too, have fallen prey to tigers in the vicinity, leading to an emergency situation in the area.  

“Residents here are living in constant fear of tigers. We don’t dare to come out of our houses, not even during the day time. In fact, this situation, where people are staying indoors, reminds us of the nationwide lockdown imposed because of COVID-19,” Boppanna Manira, a resident of West Nemmale village in the taluk, told TNM.

As a result, plantation workers stop their work by 4 pm and residents do not step out of their homes after 4 pm. 

In the first incident of tiger attacks in Kodagu, on February 20, a 16-year-old boy was fetching some firewood in the night when he was killed by the tiger. The next day, a 60-year-old coffee estate plantation worker was killed when she stepped out to answer nature’s call. These attacks took place in the Ponnampet region within a radius of two kilometres from each other. Later that day, on February 21, the forest officials captured a female tiger with the help of trained elephants.  

However, just when forest officials hoped that human-tiger conflict in the region had come down with the capture of a tiger, the third case of a tiger attack was reported on March 8, Monday, where the 12-year-old boy was mauled to death at a coffee plantation in the Belur village. A person named Kencha (50) survived the attack, although he sustained serious injuries. 

Kencha was left with serious injuries after he was attacked by Tiger

The forest department officials, along with tamed elephants, have now intensified the combing operation to capture the elusive tiger, which is suspected to be an 11-year-old male. 

Why the tiger could be straying

According to ex Honorary Wildlife Warden KN Madappa (Bose Madappa), the tiger, which is suspected to be attacking humans and cattle, has been driven out of Nagarahole National Park by another stronger and younger tiger in a territorial fight. Straying out of the park, this suspected tiger has started attacking humans and cattle, said Madappa, who has been nominated by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to provide technical assistance to forest officials in tiger rescue operations in Ponnampet. 

Incidentally, when the tiger was captured on February 21, the forest department found that the nine-year-old tigress had an injury on her right paw. Officials reasoned that the injury could have incapacitated the tigress from hunting wild animals and hence could have resorted to preying on humans instead.

The elusive Tiger had attacked a goat 

Colonel (retired) Muthanna, former president of the Coorg Wildlife Society and a veteran conservationist based in the region, said that In all three fatalities, the humans were attacked from behind. “This could indicate that these tigers are killing humans on purpose. This is because it is probably old or injured and cannot hunt wild prey. This is an unprecedented situation in the living memory in Kodagu as tiger attacks were not common outside forest areas,” explained Col Muthanna, who is also a resident in the region.

“There is definitely fear among the public as the tiger killed another cow on Wednesday. We are not exactly sure if it’s one particular tiger that is killing cattle and humans. However, people’s fear of the tiger is much more compared to elephants as the former is stealthy,” he added. 

Col Muthanna is working with the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) to compensate residents who have lost their cattle. Around 30 cattle heads have been killed in the entire district over the last two months. 

“My estimate is there are four tigers in the entire district outside the forests. While one tiger could be attacking humans, the other tigers could be likely attacking the cattle,” he said. 

The combing operation 

About 150 forest personnel have been engaged in the combing operation duty since February 20 and the personnel were able to capture a tiger on February 21, which was on the prowl in the region.

While residents in the region fear that there could be about six tigers roaming in the region, Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) Chakrapani ruled out the possibility of more than one tiger in the region. 

The same tiger attacked the cattle in Srimangala hobili

The tiger has been camera-trapped. Following the protests on Thursday, the Forest Department has roped in a private sharpshooter, after the tiger evaded the efforts of the forest officials to sedate it or trap it in a cage. The sharpshooter can shoot an animal to death only in an emergency situation, the DCF told TNM.

“Our forest personnel have been working day and night to catch the tiger using tamed elephants. We have orders to shoot down the tiger or trap it in cages laid at convenient locations, where the tiger pugmarks have been traced in the region,” said DCF Chakrapani.

The tracking team of forest officials found fresh pugmarks of a tiger in the Belur area of Ponnampet on Friday. 

“Our first task is to rescue the tiger. Efforts are underway to tranquilise it and then capture it,” said Madappa.

Rope in experts, say activists

Joseph Hoover, a senior conservationist and a former member of the State Wildlife Board, alleged that the order to engage non-departmental personnel to capture/eliminate the tiger is illegal and in violation of the standard operating procedures laid out by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

He said the current crisis could have been avoided if the department had been more proactive from the outset. According to Joseph, much before the tiger killed anybody in the vicinity of the forests, the local estate owners and even naturalists had approached the Karnataka Forest Department for capturing these tigers, 

“However, somehow, things were taken lightly because normally, a tiger comes out of the forest once in a while and then goes back. But these tiger attacks have been happening frequently,” he explained. 

According to Joseph, when the tiger was spotted on March 8, the officials allegedly missed the dart to tranquilise it and they later shot into the air to disperse it. “The department should ensure to get the right person on the spot to ensure that the tiger is captured. Experts like D Rajkumar, a rescuer from Mysuru who has assisted the NTCA and the forest department in capturing over 22 tigers over the last few years, should be brought on board. However, neither the NTCA nor the Karnataka Forest Department has called him in yet. We don't understand why there is a reluctance to call in the right people on the job,” he said, suggesting that the government hire such experts on a permanent basis. 

Arun Prasad, an animal welfare activist in Bengaluru, also said that while the fear among the residents is understandable, the forest department has to work professionally. “In adverse situations, the department might be forced to kill a man-eater, but why is the department engaging private shooters for this purpose? Why are they not having trained staff who are expert in tranquilising? Killing tigers should only be a last-ditch effort,” he said. 

Joseph stressed the need to look for a win-win solution in this crisis. “We had written to the Chief Secretary earlier, saying that we need to look at the situation seriously as more and more tigers are dispersing into estates and villages. The priority should be to ensure both tigers and people are safe. When there is trouble, they should ensure that nobody is harmed. We need to look at a win-win situation,” he said.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute