The dearth of facilities to quarantine and treat predators, especially tigers that raid habitation centres and make off with livestock, has hobbled the Forest department’s efforts to mitigate human-wildlife conflict in Wayanad. In February this year, the Forest and Wildlife department set up an animal hospice and palliative care unit, the first of its kind in the country, for big cats in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS). However, the facility can accommodate only four animals at a time and all slots are filled now.
An adult big cat, captured on March 9 from a human settlement in the Mananthavady municipality was the first animal admitted to the hospice. A tigress, caught recently from Ponmudikkotta, after it reportedly killed 23 domestic animals, was the fourth predator shifted to the unit.
The hospice was envisaged to treat the aged, injured, or diseased big cats. They would either be rehabilitated in zoos or released into the wild after treatment, depending on their health. But no animals are yet to be released in the wild owing to their health and age. After the capture of the tigress, one more domestic animal went missing in the district recently. If another predator is captured, the authorities will be in trouble. The hospice cannot accommodate more animals and the situation in the zoos in Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur is not different either, Forest department sources said.
According to the tiger census in 2016, 56 adult tigers were identified in the sanctuary landscape, Narendra Babu, conservator of forest (Inspection and evaluation), said. As the life expectancy of a tiger in its habitat is nearly 12 to 14 years, the aged tiger population would be a major concern for wildlife managers and the public in the coming years, Mr. Narendra Babu, who was also the former warden of the sanctuary said.
According to the latest tiger estimation conducted in 2018, the region had 150 tigers, including 120 in the sanctuary and 30 in the territorial forest divisions. According to Forest department data, as many as 22 straying tigers had been captured in the Wayanad landscape since 2015. Setting up another animal hospice or the expansion of the existing one alone cannot address the issue, say experts. Instead, a master plan based on a scientific study; increased capacity of existing staff; and more Rapid Response Team (RRT) units would help tackle the situation, experts say.