A shrinking habitat for tigers is one of the biggest problems facing conservationists in India. India has one of the world’s largest programs to protect the tiger. However, there is a growing problem of balancing the interests of wildlife with those of villages in or near tiger reserves.
More than a year ago, wildlife officials climbed to a village in the center of Sariska Tiger Reserve. A female tiger, or tigress, was prowling near the village.
The officials were worried that frightened villagers would target the animal. So, the animal experts spent many hours persuading the villagers not to disturb the tigress. She apparently was on a search for a mate.
Manoj Parashar is the Deputy Field Director of Sariska Reserve. He says forest guards and villagers formed teams to keep continuous watch over the tigress.
He says the officials said they would immediately intervene if she tried to attack someone. They urged the villagers to leave her alone. Mr. Parashar says they agreed.
The tigress spent a week near the village before returning to the deep jungle. Four of those days she spent with a male tiger who answered her mating call.
Months later, the tigress gave birth to two cubs. This made the officials very happy. They are the newest additions to the 13 tigers in Sariska.
Conservationists say neither the villagers nor wildlife gain from being close together. They say wild animals including deer, boar or elephants, can damage crops or attack farm animals.
For tigers and other animals, the presence of these villages means noise and movement in the middle of the forest.
Belinda Wright heads the Wildlife Protection Society of India. She says times have changed, even for life in the forest.
“It is no longer a quiet little village that has a sort of very simple existence and simple life. Nowadays it is quite intrusive. People have aspirations which they did not have in the past. It is now very complex and same villagers want motorbikes and so on and it is a huge disturbance for wildlife.”
India is home to half the world’s tigers. The population fell to just 1,400 at one point. The last count was in 2011. There were 1,706 tigers.
Five years ago officials launched a program to protect the tigers' habitat. They moved the villages in the 886 square kilometer reserve. Similar programs are taking place in several other tiger reserves across the country.
Under the program, villagers in Sariska are given about $16,000 to leave their homes and re-settle elsewhere.
But the program has made little progress in persuading villagers to leave their traditional home.
Haripura village is inside the gate of the reserve. It is also one of the villages identified for a move. For generations, Haripura villagers have raised cows and farmed the land.
One of them, Lalu Ram Gujjar, says villagers are resistant to moving out because the resettlement offer is too small.
He says it will cost a lot to buy even a small piece of land. He questions how he will be able to build a house or live during the one or two years of resettlement.
So far, three villages in Sariska have been moved. Six others are in the process of relocation.
R.S. Shekawat, the director of Sariska Tiger Reserve, says moving villages out from the reserve is very difficult. Villagers cannot be forced to leave. They have to agree to move voluntarily.
“It is quite difficult, because land prices have gone very high all around, and the package is not that great and not many people are not coming forward for relocation. So this is one of biggest challenge. Tiger for breeding need inviolate space. If they (villagers) move out, we would have a lot of area, 500 square kilometers, which would be inviolate.”
But villagers like Lalu Ram Gujjar are in no hurry to move out. He says they get used to living along with the wildlife. He says that the tiger often passes close to their homes, but never threatens them.
However, conservationists like Belinda Wright feel there is little time to be lost.
“This is a very, very difficult thing for people, probably more difficult than even the people think it is, to move them from their traditional homes that they have lived in for generations, and for them to start a new life and a new way of life. But if it does not happen now, in five years, ten years times it will be a 100 times more difficult to find land to accommodate people and in the meantime a lot of damage will be done.”
The struggle to balance the interest of wildlife and villagers is not likely to end anytime soon. India needs to conserve the tiger. But the government also wants to guarantee a fair deal to people and tribes for whom the forest has always been home.
I’m Marsha James.
Anjana Pasricha reported this story from New Delhi, India. Marsha James wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in this Story
habitat - n. the place of type of place where an animal naturally lives
conservationist – n. someone who works to protect animals, plants, and natural resources or to prevent the loss of waste or natural resources
reserve – n. an area of land where animals and plants are given special protection
prowling – v. to move through a place or area while searching for something often in a quiet or secret way
mate – v. to bring animals together so that they will breed and produce young