Cubs, Young Tigers and Patrollers
A Young Male Tiger in Bandhavgarh
Firstly, can I start by thanking you all for your continued amazing support for the wild tigers and our work since our December 2019 project report. I am delighted to say that because of your help our patrollers have managed to keep Bandhavgarh’s wild tigers safe for another 2.5 months. This brings us to 55 months without a wild tiger death due to retaliatory poisoning and 40 months since the last wild tiger poaching incident. We know that despite this achievement there is no time for complacency, just because our success has helped Bandhavgarh’s tiger population to double in recent years it doesn’t mean that the threats have gone away. More tigers mean more protection is needed and sadly it also means that the risk of poachers striking increases too. Poachers think that an abundance of tigers means that those which go missing are less likely to be noticed. THEY ARE WRONG! We know that every wild tiger is precious, every loss has multiple consequences, AND that the future of wild tigers depends on us being able to keep the current tigers safe from harm. As more and more cubs are born and survive to adulthood, it is a testimony to our methods working, but there are other consequences which put wild tigers’ lives at risk. More tigers mean a greater likelihood of human-tiger conflict; and when coupled with a loss of habitat – tiger-tiger conflict is inevitable. Not a month goes by without a report of human encroachment in the tigers’ forest or illegal grass harvesting/wood-cutting activities. This is without the farmers who continue to illegally graze their livestock in protected areas of the forest. Sometimes, it seems like our patrollers have a full time job policing miscreant activities even without searching for poachers’ snares and traps. Fear not though, because our patrollers always combine these “policing” type duties with their searches for signs of poachers, poisoners, snares and traps.
Just this week we have received news of two more tigresses with young cubs, some of which are less than one month old. We know this means that our patrollers’ work will increase again over the next few months, even before we deal with the onset of the monsoon and peak poaching season. As the cubs born over the last three years approach adulthood, they all need territories of their own, which is testing to see the least in a forest already surrounded by more than three quarters of a million people. Where will these young tigers go? Those which choose to leave Bandhavgarh in search of pastures new will face the survival challenges presented by human development: villages, roads, railway lines, mines, traffic, a lack of native prey, to name but a few things they will face. This is even before we consider the risk of poachers’ snares and traps beyond the confines of our patrolling area. In recent months, we have taken account of this and expanded our perimeter where our resources will allow us to do so, but to cover a greater area needs more hours and even more days patrolling and our current resources are already stretched. If you think that you can help, please donate now at: https://goto.gg/34704.
If you have been following our project reports over the last three years you will be familiar with the news that Tigers4Ever stepped in to help save three orphaned cubs when their mother was killed by poachers (the last tiger to be poached in Bandhavgarh – 40 months ago!). All three cubs survived and are now young adults needing territory of their own, so in a move to increase their long term survival chances, two have the grown up cubs were recently relocated to Satpura National Park, high in the hills of the Eastern Ghats of Madhya Pradesh. One young male and his sister have recently been released into vacant independent territories in Satpura; it is uncommon for siblings to mate so they are most likely to stay away from each other going forward. All was going well until the end of last week when the young male tiger killed a woman villager in the forest and the villagers retaliated to demand action against the tiger by the forest department officials. The signs suggested that the incident was an accidental killing not an act of predation so forest officials drove the young tiger away from the village and back into the forest where they continue to monitor his behaviour around the clock. In a stand against this action the angry villagers burnt down the Eco Centre at Satpura, in retaliation for the loss of the woman’s life whist the tiger has been given a second chance. Although this incident hasn’t happened in Bandhavgarh, it has involved one of the tigers relocated from Bandhavgarh, which could mean that the young male may be returned if he were to attack another human. Tigers which lose their fear of humans are dangerous because they will habitually visit the villages in search of easy prey and will put themselves at risk of a retaliatory poisoning or poaching incident. In such cases, all patrollers will have much more work to do to ensure the safety of the tigers. Sadly, young male tigers and aging deposed alpha male tigers are frequently the cause of most human-tiger conflict, because they both need new territory and food, and they don’t distinguish human settlements from the forest so they sleep in the fields where crops are being tended and kill the livestock when hungry. It is for these reasons that our patrollers always look for signs of tiger movement in addition to checking for snares and traps around the periphery of the villages which surround the wild tiger territories.
If you read our December report, you may recall that one of our senior anti-poaching patrollers, Vidya, had an accident which resulted in a complex break of the bones in her right arm, for which she needed surgery. Despite the fact that Vidya had two metal plates inserted in her arm to repair the break; no doubt, like ourselves, you will be pleased to hear that she has fully recovered now and is back on patrol helping Tigers4Ever to keep wild tigers safe. We are delighted to have her back fit and well as she is one of our best patrollers. Having our patrolling team at full strength is vitally important as the warmer weather starts to bring about the drought season; and with it an increased risk of human-animal conflict. As herbivores raid crops, and predators follow in search of food but instead take livestock which doesn’t run away; villagers become disgruntled and sometimes take measures to protect what is theirs but at the same time risking the lives of not just tigers and leopards but also their prey. Experienced patrollers know that they need to keep an eye out for signs of water-sources and animal carcasses being poisoned at this time of year; AND also for snares and traps set for the crop raiding herbivores which will indiscriminately kill tigers and leopards too. Just this week, two poachers were caught on camera in Ranthambhore carrying the deer carcasses which they had ensnared. The culprits hadn’t spotted the camera traps used to monitor wild animal movements as they were too busy revelling in their catch. This evidence was not only used to catch the culprits, it will be used to secure their convictions.
As poachers get cleverer, patrollers must get cleverer too. It is for this reason that we recruit our patrollers from the villages around Bandhavgarh. These people don’t just know the animals which they might encounter, they know the people too. It makes it harder for poachers to go under the radar by infiltrating the local communities to blend in like locals. Our patrollers are always on the alert for fresh human tracks as well as those of tigers, leopards and other wildlife. Our patrollers know the normal routes taken by local people when moving around or to/from their villages, so footprints elsewhere will always raise the alarm. Often these are the footprints of people who are logging illegally, collecting firewood, or harvesting grasses to feed their livestock, nonetheless every set of suspicious footprints is fully investigated, as we have already mentioned above our patrollers spend a lot of their time policing miscreant activities too.
As we head into March and the forest leaf litter becomes increasingly parched, our patrollers will need to keep a sharp eye out for forest fires which often start spontaneously due to the heat. Small cubs, ground birds, reptiles and insects are particularly at risk when these fires get out of control. Our patrollers have been helping to quell such fires for the last 4 years and have helped to save the lives of countless wild animals which their quick response to quash the flames and by assisting with the creation of firebreaks to ensure the spread of the fires are contained. It is a difficult and exhausting part of our patrollers’ daily routines from March until the onset of the early monsoon rains at the beginning of July, which is in addition to their usual patrolling activities. For this reason, we would like to be able to increase our patrolling numbers but we can’t do it without help. It would cost us just £10/US$13 monthly to pay 2 anti-poaching patrollers to protect wild #tigers for 1 day every month? Could you help us to do this and keep wild #tigers safe today by setting up a new recurring donation? https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/protect-bandhavgarhs-tigers-from-poachers-2019/?show=recurring.
The warmer weather also brings the onset of the wedding season, which brings more revellers into the jungle, mostly young people who have had too much to drink, but nonetheless they present a danger to wildlife, the forest and themselves with their irresponsible actions. Some light campfires and sit around chatting, drinking and smoking, if these campfires get out of control or a cigarette is carelessly discarded wildlife including tiny tiger cubs can perish. Our patrollers are always on the alert for such activities, but sadly not all revellers will move on quietly. At is at these times that our patrollers must rely on safety in numbers and the back-up of the forest department rangers who accompany our patrols, as they have radio communications and can call for back up or other forms of help.
March will also bring the start of the season for picking Mahua flowers (for Indian alcohol) and Tendu leaves (for Indian tobacco). Impoverished villagers will risk their lives during this season to earn just 100 rupees ( about £1.10/US$1.50) for picking 5000 Tendu leaves, drying them in the sunlight, rolling them and carrying them in large bundles to the buyers who make the tobacco from them. Our patrollers play a very important educational role in ensuring these villagers minimise the risks to themselves by working in pairs or small groups and knowing how to react if they encounter a tiger. Preventing the deaths of the humans who risk their lives collecting Tendu leaves and Mahua flowers is just as important as for those collecting firewood, because there are no winners when a villager loses their life in a tiger attack; as villagers will not tolerate the presence of a tiger in the forest which has been branded a “man-eater”.
As our patrollers once again face the challenges brought about by the onset of drought conditions and further increases in human-tiger conflict, it must seem like a never ending circle. In some respects, that is exactly what it is like. There is never really a time of year when anti-poaching patrols aren’t facing a challenge to keep wild tigers safe, so we are always grateful for their dedication and bravery. We sleep a little better at night because we know that the men and women who make up the Tigers4Ever anti-poaching patrols are doing their utmost to keep wild tigers safe. It is not just removing traps and snares; it is about education, policing and safety for both the human and wildlife inhabitants of the forest.
It is, as we have said on many occasions, the people who live with wild tigers who will have the greatest influence on whether wild tigers will have a wild future. We maintain our community focus with all our wild tiger conservation projects for this reason. By recruiting our anti-poaching patrollers (and other workers) from local villages, using local suppliers to make uniforms, equipment and the food which our patrollers eat whilst on duty, etc., we are giving the villagers a dependency on wild tiger survival.
Some of you may be looking for a T-Shirt, hoody or sweatshirt for that someone special who loves wild tigers or for your own summer holiday plans; if you are, please take a look at our online shop where we have a range of clothing in adult and children’s sizes: https://stores.clothes2order.com/tigers4ever-saving-tigers/. None of our products are made in China/sourced from materials made in China; and all sales help our anti-poaching patrols to keep wild tigers safe.
Finally we would like to thank you all for sparing the time to read this newsletter and for your continued amazing support and donations. It is always difficult to ask, especially at this time of year, however, wild tigers’ lives are at risk 24 hours a day 365 days a year so it is essential that our patrollers are there to keep them safe. If you can afford to help, please donate now at: https://goto.gg/34704 and help us to continue to give wild tigers a wild future, every little really does make a big difference. Remember that new monthly donations will have an extra impact too due to bonus matched funds from GlobalGiving.
Villager carrying his bundle of Tendu leaves