Tiger population grows in India, as does fear after attacks


NEW DELHI — No one has lived long enough to describe the tiger in detail, but some things about her are known. She traverses great stretches of land in a day and is comfortable wandering deep into human territory. After killing her first three or four people, she began to eat her victims — starting rump-first, one expert said, as she would a deer.

Though it is impossible to say with certainty whether the same tiger is at fault, last weekend brought the 10th death in six weeks widely attributed to the “man-eater,” as Indian newspapers have called her.

Conflicts with humans are arising precisely in the handful of places where the endangered Bengal tiger population has rebounded thanks to careful conservation efforts, said Ullas Karanth, a wildlife biologist who runs the India program of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

At the turn of the 20th century there were 40,000 tigers in India, according to the country’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, but there are now just 4,000 in the wild, prompting a broad campaign to protect tigers and the fragile forests in which they live.

But where conservation efforts have helped shore up tiger populations, the hulking, half-ton cats encroach on settlements that are unaccustomed to them. In the wake of each attack, the tigers are met with a roar of crowds and cranes and tractors, instead of the subdued, systematic dragnet used by earlier generations long used to living near tigers.

“What works, in my opinion, are like surgical operations, you need a small team of trained people on elephants to quietly allow the tiger to stay in the area,” Karanth said. “Instead, mobs come, then there is a military campaign, they keep pushing the animal and make it harder and harder to catch.”

Anxiety has mounted gradually since Dec. 29, when the first victim, a farmer, was found mauled in a sugarcane field in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

On Sunday morning, a 45-year-old worker named Ram Charan jumped out of a car to relieve himself on a roadside in the Jim Corbett National Park. When his companions ran toward his screams, they found him some 60 feet into the forest, the flesh torn off his thighs. After he died, angry villagers surrounded a forestry service outpost, trapping personnel inside for some time, said Shiv Shankar Singh, the top bureaucrat from the neighboring district of Moradabad.

“They say, ‘Give us guns, and we will kill the tigress,’” Singh said.