Human deaths in wildlife attacks have been rising in the forests of Brahmapuri in Maharashtra, from six in 2006 to 18 in 2018, most of them in tiger and leopard attacks . A look at the factors leading to the area’s emergence as a human-wildlife conflict zone, and the mitigation measures taken or explored:
The 1,200-sq-km Brahmapuri forest division of Chandrapur district — home to 41 tigers (16 males, 25 females, besides some 15-16 cubs) as well as 80-90 leopards — is not a tiger reserve. Brahmapuri is today the most precious tiger-bearing non-protected area in the country.
Among the reasons for Brahmapuri emerging a hotspot for human-wildlife conflict, the most obvious is the growth of tiger numbers, from about 15-16 in 2013 to 41 now. Chandrapur district as a whole has more than 100 tigers, possibly the highest for a district anywhere in the country. Brahmapuri’s 41 tigers have to live with over 610 villages, half of them close to the forest.
Among other reasons for the conflict are high fragmentation of the forest and high cattle density. Cattle being easy food for tigers, cattle kill cases have risen from 305 in 2009-10 to 852 in 2018-19.
Brahmapuri has one the highest numbers of roads for a forest teeming with tigers. And then there are agricultural fields all around. So, tiger dispersal or movement is bound to trigger conflict with humans.
One major factor for the rise in tiger numbers has been a major crackdown on organised poaching gangs that had been operating since 2013.
As with any forest, human-wildlife conflict is mostly due to people’s interface with wildlife. People go inside the Brahmapuri forest to collect minor forest produce and firewood. The conflict is generally intense during April-May, when people enter the forest to collect mahua flowers and tendu leaves, the latter used to make beedis. Mahua flowers are nutrient-rich and edible, and are also used to make liquor.
The forest officials have mapped the possible conflict spots. Awareness campaign has been launched and compensation is provided to family members of victims.
The state government started providing LPG to villagers at 50% subsidy to reduce people’s dependence on firewood for which they had entered forests. The result was that number of human deaths in wildlife attacks came down from six in 2008 to one in 2013.
This has so far remained unexplored. There is a need to shift females to areas like Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve that are deficient in female population. That will also arrest the fast breeding in the area.