This is an ongoing issue and an important one. Yesterday in the jungle I was in a dry creek, doing a routine check in the Leopard Refuge Station area, moving quickly and quietly to get the job done. I saw a flash of movement about 80 metres ahead of me and having just seen fresh tiger pug marks my senses sharpened. I’ve seen tigers twice before in the exact area as well as a lot of sign of the big striped cats, also of leopard.
I waited and watched carefully, more movement, this time I could just make out it was a person I could see in reasonably high grass just above the creek. It’s a no go zone, a place that needs to be left as undisturbed as possible. I climbed out of the creek into thicker vegetation and made my way as quietly as possible to near where I thought the person might be. Sure enough, I found her, an elderly woman, she looked up just as I took the image you can see. You can also see the worried look on her face, I don’t think my lockdown beard helped the situation.
The woman was down in the creek at this stage, she was bundling grass she had cut on the other side. She was alone and she was foraging in an area she should not have been in. There are some circumstances where people from the village community she is from can forage but it is with permit only at certain times and always in groups for safety. This type of foraging is monitored by Range Post staff.
The encounter raises three issues. First, the economic circumstances the woman finds herself in forcing her to do that. Second, the way this type of grass and biomass gathering affects critical habitat. And thirdly, the safety of the woman, as I mentioned this is prime tiger territory.
I put the woman at ease, she was alarmed at me finding her there but in these situations there has to be some understanding. The woman knew she shouldn’t be there but many of these people don’t really understand why there are these rules. I told her that tiger was in the area, she brought her hands together in namaste and I said it was ok, just best that she quickly finish bundling her grass and then move.
Many tiger attacks on people take place in these types of circumstances, a woman on her own cutting grass. Although it is a prey rich area one can never be too careful and that in itself is respect for the big cats, this is their territory, their place, one of the few they can still call their own in a natural world much too disturbed. An attack in a situation like this is often opportunism but it can lead to a dangerous follow on, maybe more attacks and the big cat cast as a villain.
I reported what I had to, the woman was not a poacher, she is just one of many who does things a certain way in a complex situation where the balance of coexistence needs constant work. There are so many of these types of incidents, the seriousness of jungle intrusion varies, each situation needs to be handled accordingly. It will always be like this, there is no black or white, only a fluid dynamic which can be made easier with education, improved economic circumstance and above all, decisions made which are fair to all human and wildlife living in these places.
Appended shortly after:
Appended 14 June 2020: