Family loses three persons in 48 hours; Combing operation begins to trace elusive feline
Gonikoppa/Bengaluru: Soon after she heard the news of the death of two close relatives in tiger attacks at Palleri and K. Badaga villages in Ponnampet taluk of South Kodagu, a 65-year-old Jayamma died of shock at Koluvige tribal colony in Mysuru district.
Two persons including an 18-year-old Chethan and his grandfather 70-year-old Raju were killed within a span of 24 hours on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13. Both deceased belong to the Jenukuruba community. Chethan’s parents migrated from Panchavalli in Hunsur just three months back for work during coffee season. While Chethan was killed first when walking with his father Madhu, Raju, a native of Panchavalli, came to Palleri hearing the news of his grandson’s death. Chethan is the son of Veena Kumari who is Jayamma’s daughter. The family lost three persons within 48 hours.
The incident took place near Hulikal Anti-Poaching Camp close to Nanachi Gate of Nagarahole range. Meanwhile, pressure is building on the Forest Department to capture or kill the menacing big cat. The deaths resulted in protests by residents of nearby villagers who blamed official apathy for tiger attacks. It is yet unclear whether the same tiger was responsible for both deaths.
Both incidents occurred within 500 meters of distance and just a kilometre from the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve buffer zone. The enraged villagers gathered in large numbers at the incident venues and protested against the Forest Department with the support of Raitha Sangha. They demanded a shoot-at-sight order to end the menace.
Villagers reasoned when the tiger becomes a man-eater, the only remedy is to kill the animal to save the lives of humans or catch it to shift it to an animal rescue centre. They complained that a tiger has often been sighted in the vicinity and used to prey on domestic animals, still the Forest Department failed to act.
Even as the Forest Department launched an operation to catch the tiger with trained and tamed elephants, fear has gripped Palleri and surrounding villages like Nalkeri, Kutta and Choorikadu and the coffee picking works have come to a standstill as labourers and growers are not venturing out of their houses.
“The Chief Wildlife Warden has issued orders to catch the tiger. More than 250 forest personnel and officers launched a huge combing operation,” Nagarahole Tiger Reserve Director Harsha Chikkanaragund told reporters.
“The tiger might be aged and unable to hunt hence killing humans. We have installed 30 trap cameras in various places, placed three cages, using five elephants in operation and would catch the man-eater soon,” he added.
Dereliction of duty, alleges MLA
The issue was also raised in the Legislative Assembly by MLAs K.G. Bopaiah, Appacchu Ranjan and H.P. Manjunath during the Zero Hour. Bopaiah alleged that foresters were absent at night and arrived only after the incidents.
Responding on behalf of the Government, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister J.C. Madhuswamy said that he would talk to the Chief Minister about the issue. “The Government will not spare any officials if their negligence caused the deaths,” he added.
“If the Department finds difficulty in handling tigers, give us powers, we will handle tigers,” Bopaiah said. Madhuswamy said strict action would be initiated against Forest Department officials, including the Deputy Range Forest Officer (DFO), if a tiger killed two persons on account of dereliction of duty.
Kodagu Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) B. Niranjan Murthy visited the spot and is camping in the region. A team of 150 foresters have been deployed to capture the tiger and were given 20 weapons and 12 vehicles. He said though the tiger was sighted in the area, it retreated into the jungle following the commotion caused by the congregation of people at the spot.
“Two patrol teams have been formed. The tiger was spotted twice near the estate,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rs. 5 lakh compensation has been handed over to the victim’s kin. The Department has assured to release Rs. 15 lakh each as total compensation.
Tigers, elephants roam freely in coffee estates: A.S. Ponnanna
Congress leader and Advocate Ajjikuttira S. Ponnanna said that the human-animal conflict has peaked in Kodagu and called for immediate mitigating measures. “Two people have lost their lives in an attack by a tiger. This is not the first time. In the last few months, more than eight people have lost their lives in tiger attacks,” he said, demanding a thorough investigation.
“Tigers and elephants are all over coffee estates, endangering the lives of estate owners and labourers. Today, two people have lost their lives, purely due to the negligence of the Forest Department and there appears to be no action by State Government or district officials to resolve this conflict,” Ponnanna said.