Why a tiger has created tension between residents and forest officials in Kerala

Residents in Wayanad’s Mananthavady, upset that officials are not acting promptly after being informed that the animal was spotted, blockaded the Forest officials’ team on Friday.
Local residents gathered around officials in Kerala's Wayanad
Local residents gathered around officials in Kerala's Wayanad
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It has been 19 days since a tiger is on the prowl in Mananthavady in Kerala’s Wayanad. On Friday, December 17, as unhappy local residents questioned the delay in capturing the animal, it led to a scuffle between them and officials from the Forest Department.

The wild animal was first spotted on November 28 in Kurukkanmoola near Mananthavady after it allegedly killed a goat belonging to Jilson, a local resident whose house is located in an area adjacent to the forest. Since then, the tiger has killed several goats and cows in a four-kilometre radius of Kurukkanmoola, according to the local residents. The district authorities have deployed six battalions of forces comprising police and forest officials, reported PTI. Local people from the Kurichi tribal community have also been included in the search team to locate the tiger.

However, local residents had been unhappy that Forest officials were not acting promptly on being informed that the animal was spotted. On Thursday midnight, the local residents spotted the tiger at Puthiyidam near Kurukkanmoola and informed the officials. A family that had stepped out spotted the animal on the way back home at 12.30 am. But they were disappointed again because officials arrived at the spot late and without proper equipment.

“The officials reached the spot late. Not only that, they didn’t have even a stick with them and were also not familiar with the region. Till today, we were patient though the officials never acted swiftly when we informed them on spotting the tiger. Each time the tiger was spotted, local people and politicians would gather and leave in a while, and the officials would arrive there late,” Akhil, a resident of Kurukkanmoola and a lawyer practising at Mananthavady, told TNM.

“There are cameras installed by the Forest Department in some of the spots. But initially their argument was that they couldn’t figure out if it was a leopard or tiger as an image of the animal was not available. It was on the 9th day since spotting the tiger (December 7) that the local people blockaded the office of the Divisional Forest Officer for not taking any effective steps to trap the tiger,” Akhil added.

On Friday, the residents blockaded the Forest officials’ team for not acting promptly or effectively. In a video shot by Media One TV, an official can be seen taking out a knife to take on the residents and someone stopping him.

It was on the tenth day (December 8) that the forest officials said they got the image of the tiger from the cameras. The tiger was reportedly found to be injured in the image. Akhil said, “The next day, the forest officials set a trap for the tiger. They didn’t want to take any risks as it was injured. The death of a tiger, being the national animal, would make the forest officials answerable (the tiger is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act). The trap, which is called kooduveykkal in the local language, is set by tying up a domestic animal to lure the wild animal.”

However, the tiger didn’t fall for the traps, though they were set up in five spots. The locals believe that this was because the tiger had fallen for it once in the past. The forest officials also used elephants to try to force the tiger out of the forest so that they can tranquilise it. The method is to send a couple of elephants into the forest so that the tiger may come out hearing the noise.

“But there are other effective methods like using drones to spot the animal. There are now even thermal drones, which are not used by the Forest Department. Meanwhile, the local people are living in fear, with domestic animals being attacked every day,” Akhil said.

PTI reported that forest officials are planning to construct temporary watch houses on treetops to locate the tiger and have deployed experts to use tranquilizer guns.

“Nearly 200 police, forest officials and others are trying to locate the tiger. We are planning to construct watch houses on treetops and there will be officials with tranquilizer guns,” a senior police official told PTI.

Meanwhile, senior wildlife officials from Thiruvananthapuram are on their way to Wayanad district.

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