HYDERABAD: In what seems like a scene straight out of the latest Bollywood potboiler ‘Sherni’ that deals with man-animal conflict in India, tigers in Telangana’s Kumuram Bheem Asifabad district are trying hard to reclaim their territory, even as villagers continue to encroach the wild cats’ habitat.
Villagers confirmed multiple sightings in the deeply forested area, which is now fast being devoured by humans.
The latest photograph of one such sighting shows the tiger, suspected to be A2, sitting in the forest, which has seen increasing migration of tigers from neighbouring Maharashtra, but the land is being encroached by the day.
Sightings have been reported in Kondapalli, Digida and Lodpalli villages of the district, triggering panic among locals and farmers who say two tribal youths were killed by the tiger last year and cattle kills have been reported every week.
“The villagers see the tiger almost every alternate day. There are several instances where agricultural labourers have spotted the tiger, while they were grazing cattle,” said Nimma Mallanna, a resident of Kondapalli village.
Forest officials TOI spoke to confirmed that the big cat was moving in the forest fringes and have urged the locals to be cautious.
“We have requested farmers not to venture deep inside the forest and stop encroaching forest land for agriculture, which is the main cause of increasing man-animal conflicts in the region. The tiger is just trying to save its dwindling habitat,” said a top forest department official.
“In one village out of the 40, at least 2,000 acres of forest land has been encroached. So you know the extent in other places,” he added.
Forest officials say nearly 40 villages that fall in the tiger corridor of the district are currently affected by man-animal conflicts.
“We are witnessing incidents where people who are not aware of the wild animal conflicts are entering forest areas for agricultural activities. Our staff has been constantly working towards conducting awareness campaigns and counselling people who are entering forest areas, to avoid any untoward incidents,” district forest official S Shantharam told TOI.
Local villagers claim that the problem of forest land encroachment is mainly due to authorities not conducting a survey to demarcate forest area from the revenue land.
“Podu (agriculture) lands have been there in the forest for over 40 years, but from 2010, there are some new encroachments inside the forest area. There is about 1,600 acres of revenue land and 2,000 acres of forest land in this area. The encroachment is happening because the authorities have not conducted any survey to mark a boundary to separate these lands,” said Kondapalli sarpanch Sanjeev Upasi.
Wildlife experts working in the region say the situation in this forest area depicts heart-wrenching scenes of the tiger struggling to reclaim its territory that is now under dispute due to the politics, history and geography of the land.
“The pressure of politics, forest land encroachment, construction of rail line and a national highway in the tiger corridor and its path in between Asifabad and Kawal tiger reserve, all fall on the tiger which ultimately made a villain in such scenarios. We need to come up with amicable solutions that benefit the tigers as well as villagers who depend on each other to safeguard the forests for our future generations,” said one source close to the forest department.
Tigers come to Asifabad mostly from Tadoba and Tippeshwar tiger reserves in Maharashtra and from Indravati tiger reserve from Chhattisgarh.
To avoid man-animal conflicts and road kills, the forest department had proposed eight underpasses for the four-lane national highway that passes through the tiger corridor, but not even one underpass has been taken up yet.