Resting TigerNews

Monsoon Rains and Wildlife Conflict

To quote one of our most senior anti-poaching patrollers “This has been the strangest September monsoon I can remember since 1995!” Why? I asked. The response was straight to the point: more rain, more thunderstorms, more tiger deaths and more human deaths! It wasn’t the response I had hoped for; but with daily contact with our team in India even I had been increasingly concerned by the reports we received. In 13.5 years of volunteering at Tigers4Ever and 16.5 years knowing Bandhavgarh and its wild tigers, I hadn’t seen such terrible events either! As many of you will know if you have been following our conservation efforts for a while, the primary purpose of our waterhole project is to reduce conflict. That is both human-wildlife conflict and tiger-tiger conflict.

Before I go into more detail, I must thank you all for your continued tremendous support for our efforts through what have been some incredibly challenging times. Thank you, we couldn’t do what we do without your loyal support.

Three Very Different Months

In our June report we told you how unseasonal rainfall in each of the months between March and June had presented very different challenges from those normally experienced in the hot dry drought season. Fewer forest fires, a very short mahua picking season and difficult conditions underfoot for both anti-poaching patrols and vehicles transporting essential equipment for waterhole construction and repairs.

There was a strange start to July too: inadequate early rainfall left the farmers worrying about a repeat of the 2022 rice crop failures due to insufficient water in their paddy fields. Suddenly darkness like nighttime fell upon Bandhavgarh and with it came thunderstorms which persisted for days on end, Rivers were soon overflowing and breaking their banks, roads and tracks were flooded making transportation impossible. The knee length waterproof boots we provide for anti-poaching patrols and their waterproof clothing are vital in such conditions. This vital equipment protects our anti-poaching patrols from fatal snakebites. More than 50% of fatalities due to snakebites occur annually during the monsoon season. The rice farmers were happy, but the wet conditions made it impossible for us to complete the essential repairs needed at our Arharia, Mahaman and Sukhi Patiha waterholes. It will most likely be mid to late October before we can get the equipment needed to complete the repairs even close to our waterholes. Thankfully the monsoon rains will keep them topped up in the short-term.

In August, the two additional snake capture and rescue kits which we provided proved vital as venomous snakes became much more aggressive and frequently entered patrolling camps and peoples’ homes. With the nearest hospital at least 60 minutes away, preventing snakebites is the best way to ensure the victims survival. Those of you who follow Tigers4Ever on Twitter (X) will know that one our long-time volunteers, Vikram, was bitten by a cobra this year and spent 3 days in hospital fighting for his life. Thankfully, Vikram pulled through because he was young and strong but many snakebite victims in rural areas are not so lucky. August also brought bad news as a 7-month-old tiger cub was killed in Panpatha buffer by an intruding tiger. Infanticide is sadly something which is difficult to prevent in the jungle as alpha male tigers will always fight for territory and females, killing any dependent cubs to ensure that their own bloodline succeeds. Human-wildlife conflict was also on the increase in August as older tigers find hunting widely disbursed prey a challenge and often enter the villages in search of cattle, buffalo or goats as easier prey.

Early September brought news of an aggressive male tiger killing two herdsmen in the Majhkheta area of the Manpur buffer forest. The remaining villagers were angry and aggressive towards the anti-poaching patrols, demanding the capture and incarceration of the tiger responsible. Our patrols provided safety advice to the villagers and conducted extensive patrols of the area to ensure that no traps or poisonous bait had been laid in anticipation of the tiger’s return. Human-wildlife conflict has been a significant problem in the Manpur buffer for many years and Tigers4Ever has tried tirelessly to reduce the conflict by providing educational resources so that the children of impacted families could go to school; providing desks and seating for a 100 pupils at Damna school; increasing our patrolling in affected areas to drive troublesome predators back into the forest; and ensuring that the most recently affected villages were amongst the first to receive our latest forest safety banners and talks.

September also started badly with more news of wild tigers dying in tiger-tiger conflict and more humans being attacked and killed by tigers. The lifting of cattle by wild tigers also peaked in September, something which always increases human-wildlife conflict but especially so when the same herdsman or village suffers repeated losses week upon week. Tigers4Ever has worked hard in the last 13.5 years to both increase compensation amounts for loss of life and loss of livestock and to improve the speed at which compensation for losses is paid. This helps to mitigate the losses but doesn’t alleviate the problem which is why more permanent wildlife waterholes and habitat restoration projects are so vitally important. The best way to reduce human-wildlife conflict is to reduce the need for wildlife to enter the villages and vice-versa.

After the Monsoon

We’ve already identified two sites for our next two wildlife waterhole projects, one in the Dhamokhar buffer zone and the other in the Kithauli Core zone. Before we can start work at those sites, we must first repair the waterholes at Arharia, Mahaman and Sukhi Patiha, and ensure that all our other waterholes are being filled as expected in advance of the next drought season. As the roads and tracks dry out after the monsoon rains it will be become easier to move essential equipment into the forest to carry out repairs and construct new waterholes. We have identified suitable sites close to each of the proposed new waterholes for the borewells to be constructed, so once the repairs are complete, we are ready to begin the next waterhole project, weather permitting!

We need a prolonged dry period to get the drilling done but also the conditions need to be clear as foggy mornings make working at the waterhole sites far too dangerous. Predicting the weather patterns in Bandhavgarh in the last few years has become quite a challenge in itself. The numbers of both wild elephants and wild tigers have increased some wildlife encounters for Tigers4Ever project workers can be extremely dangerous too. Thankfully, we always ensure that help is at hand for our site workers with patrollers or a patrolling vehicle or both keeping lookout for approaching wildlife. In good visibility, the langurs high in the treetops provide advance warning too.

Good News from the Panpatha Buffer

The good news about our latest waterhole project at Paljha is that it provides water for wild tigers at six locations including the main waterhole, which means that Tigers4Ever is now providing water for wild tigers at 18 waterholes in Bandhavgarh. We have also received news that sub-adult tigers are now disbursing into areas of the forest which were previously devoid of year-round water sources. This is something which is vital as the wild tiger population continues to grow. Your kind donations are making these waterholes possible and are helping to fight the effects of climate change and reduce human-wildlife conflict year-round. Without your help we would be unable to provide safe forest homes for disbursing young wild tigers.

We Still Want to Harvest Rainwater Too

As we mentioned in our last report, we have already identified at least 5 sites where rainwater harvesting projects can provide a year-round water solution where solar powered pump systems won’t work. We want to revisit these schemes alongside our future habitat restoration projects as they will be labour intensive and may require us to bring in outside expertise to train local people in the construction techniques. Our priority is to use local labour wherever possible to ensure that the community which lives with wild tigers can see their benefit and thus help to protect them.

As previously mentioned, there are reasons which are beyond our control which are delaying the start of these environmentally sound projects from progressing. This is very frustrating, as we have identified the outside expertise for the training, found suitable sites and have labourers standing by, ready to work when needed. Administrative issues and government policies in respect of access, priorities and land use overall continue to delay progress but the problems are not insurmountable; but take time. The recent changes in key personnel in the Forest Department, have also led to delays.

We won’t give up hope, as many areas in the forest are still without permanent water resources and with no access to underground water and will benefit from rainwater harvesting projects. We believe that rainwater harvesting provides a sustainable long-term solution for drought situations and is much lower maintenance than the solar pump systems, thus leads to less disturbance in the forest overall. For now, though we will continue to provide solar-pump systems for permanent wildlife water as we work our way through the latest list of ten high priority locations in need of water.

Tiger and Elephant Numbers are Still Increasing

Wild elephants in Bandhavgarh continue to cause most of the human-wildlife conflict. There isn’t a short-term solution to this problem as many factors need to be addresses concurrently. The wild elephant population continues to grow, and they need space, water and food. Years of forest degradation due to illegal logging, clearance for crop growing, forest fires and plundering of scarce forest resources for both human and livestock benefit, means that a sustained project of forest regeneration and management is required to redress the decline.

Prior to the pandemic, Tigers4Ever put forward an ambitious proposal for tree planting and habitat restoration, which would be implemented over a 4–10-year period so that reforested areas could be self-sustaining. This cannot be done in isolation as more waterholes would also be necessary in the reforested areas to ensure wildlife returns and aids natural seed dispersal. During 2023-2024 we hope to raise sufficient funds to kick-start this project and to plant quick growing vegetation which elephants can eat in areas of denuded forest around potential waterhole sites. In time, the new forest canopy will help to retain natural water in streams and pools within the rehabilitated area, but in similar projects elsewhere it can take 10-15 years to achieve. With water and forest cover, more than just elephants will benefit, deer and other herbivores will thrive too.

This project is essential to reducing tiger-tiger conflict, as the tiger population increases more tigers need more space and more food, and reforestation will help. As Bandhavgarh’s wild tiger numbers continue to increase, more space and more prey are vital for the future survival of the growing population. Tigers4Ever waterholes play a vital role in stabilising and increasing prey numbers too. When there is a shortage of water and food, deer and other prey animals don’t breed which means less food for a growing predator population. Tiger-tiger conflict is the result, as they fight for limited available prey. Tiger cub survival rates are still around 90-95% (which is much higher than the 50% average for wild tigers!), whilst this is good news for the wild tiger population, it increases the need for better habitat, more water and more prey.

At Least Ten More Waterholes are Needed

To sustain the growth Bandhavgarh’s wild tiger population, more permanent wildlife waterholes are needed in areas which can support both prey and predator dispersal. Ten such locations have been identified and work is underway to determine the availability of underground water sources for solar pump systems or sites suitable for future rainwater harvesting projects.

It will be a major challenge to provide 10 more wildlife waterholes at the pace at which they are needed, especially as many people are still struggling due to the cost-of-living crisis. Your continued support and donations are vital to ensuring that our waterholes project can address the need as soon as is possible. We need to raise at least £15000/$17000 annually to provide a minimum of three small-medium sized waterholes each year. It will take us at least 3.25 years to provide the ten waterholes needed! We also know that we’re in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis so fundraising will continue to be hard for some time.

Experience tells us that the best way to reduce the Human-Wildlife conflict is to prevent the prey animals from going to the villages in search of water. Thus, we prioritise our permanent wildlife waterhole projects as the drought season begins, each year. We hope to provide permanent wildlife water sources at two more locations before the end of the current financial year, which will bring the total number of Tigers4Ever waterholes completed to seventeen (serving 20 locations). When prey animals have adequate water and food, the tigers and leopards will have enough food too. When we complete our next two waterhole projects, the number of wild tigers benefitting from Tigers4Ever waterholes will increase to at least 105.

100% Match Bonus on New Monthly Donations

This year the GlobalGiving is providing a 100% bonus in matched funds on new monthly donations so long as you donate for at least four months, when your online donations to our waterhole project will qualify for the matched bonus. Imagine if 250 of you wonderful people read this report and donate just £10 ($13) per month each, we will raise enough funds needed towards our next five waterhole projects. With bonus matched funds too we’d be well on the way towards ensuring that wild tigers, their prey and wild elephants have water to drink as the 2023-24 drought season arrives! It would be amazing if during the matched funding campaign, we could raise a total of £15000 (US$17000) so that we can create wildlife waterholes at two more seasonal sites and bring the total number of wild tigers benefitting from Tigers4Ever waterholes to around 105 including cubs.

If you are able to help during 2023, our friends at GlobalGiving are giving us the chance to gain bonus matched funds on new monthly donations all year; so it’s a great time to start a monthly donation now because whatever you donate is sure to have a great impact for wild tigers.

Permanent wildlife waterholes are critical to prevent future tiger-tiger and human-animal conflict, which arise from increased wild tiger numbers, and better cub survival rates. There are currently more tiger cubs (64) in Bandhavgarh than the total number of wild tigers (37) counted in the 2010 Tiger Census, when Tigers4Ever started work there, so we need to do everything we can to prevent wild tiger deaths due to retaliatory response to human-wildlife conflict. One waterhole isn’t enough to reduce the conflict caused by wild tigers encroaching on the territories of other tigers and humans, so we need your help to provide at least 2 more waterholes soon, before it is too late for the wild tigers and other wildlife. With your help, we can raise enough to start work on 2 more waterholes which will save another 16 wild tigers including cubs.

Our Challenges Ahead

We need to keep wild tigers safe right now. Our anti-poaching patrols are tripled to address the risk of retaliatory poisoning and poaching. With your help, we can complete 2 more waterhole projects soon and help to keep at least 16 more wild tigers safe.

These are some of the ways your donations will help us to save wild tigers:

  • £10 ($13) per month for a year will help to drill 12 metres (39 feet) of bore-well to access underground water;
  • a one-off £20 ($26) gift will help to drill 2 metres (6.5 feet) of bore-well to access underground water;
  • a one-off £40 ($52) gift will help to drill 4 metres (13 feet) of bore-well to access underground water;
  • £90 ($117) can pay a team of workers to prepare a site for a new waterhole for wild tigers;
  • £120 ($169) can cover the cost of labour and preparation of a 1.5 metre wide by 1.5-metre-deep elephant proof moat to protect a solar-pump system;
  • £2000 ($2600) will enable the creation and lining of one larger waterhole.

Every donation, no matter how large or small, helps us increase and protect the tiger population. Thank you on behalf of the wild tigers, which you help us to keep safe; and on behalf of the wider tiger community in Bandhavgarh, which benefits from providing equipment and labour for our waterhole projects. We couldn’t do this without you, thanks to you, the wild tigers can live peacefully and those who live beside them can protect their livelihoods.

All donations are welcome.

If you can’t afford to donate perhaps you could become a Tigers4Ever fundraiser and ask your friends, colleagues and family to donate to your fundraiser to help us keep wild tigers safe.

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