A Bio-Social Research to Understand Human-Tiger Interactions in Bhopal, India.
PhD Researcher: DP. Srivastava
Advisor: Dr. Shekhar Kolipaka
Tiger (Panthera Tigris) populations in India have been growing impressively between 2006 (1411 individuals) towards 2018 (2967 individuals) (Status of tigers in India, 2018). The increase in tiger numbers may partly be credited to strengthened counting efforts across (India, but improved protection of tigers in the nearly 50 tiger reserves has also been identified as a major contributing factor.
However, tigers are wide-ranging and approximately 30% of all tigers in India live outside the reserves in unprotected lands (GTF, 2014). In the same time, the high economic growth in India is resulting in a rapid transformation of villages, towns, and cities. The natural landscapes in the proximity of these rapidly transforming human habitations are over-used, fragmented and disturbed (McKinney, 2002). As a result, several wildlife species live in small, disconnected and degraded natural areas in and around human habitations (Kong et al., 2010).
Bhopal is a historic city and the capital of Madhya Pradesh, state of India. Once a small city, its population has now grown toward 2 million inhabitants (Census of India, 2011). With the hill ranges now integrated within Bhopal city, it still continues to provide important living space to a variety of wildlife, including the tiger and the leopard. Leopards are already known to be a successull survivor in and close to large cities in India. However in Bhopal, a much larger cat is roaming the streets and using the city spaces without any reported incidents of attacks on people, the tiger. This raises two intriguing questions:
- How do tigers survive in this urban environment
- How are local people coping with the presence of these large cats?
Through a bio-sociological PhD research, tiger survival in a densely populated urban environment on the one hand and the coping mechanisms of people on the other are being studied. This is done by determining tiger densities in different parts of the city and correlate it with the distance to the city center (and thus human density). Camera trapping is used for this, and also scats are collected to determine the tigers diets. Diets are studied to know in which extend those tigers are dependent on domestic prey instead of wild prey. For the social part of the study, local people will also get interviewed in an attempt to understand people’s ways of living. In addition, local conservation groups will get interviewed to understand their experiences and the challenges of conserving tigers in urban landscapes.
Upon analyzing and synthesizing, our human and tiger studies will provide holistic insights into how tigers continue to exist in urban Bhopal; which factors are in their favor (and which not); if, how, and what human factors are influencing (or threatening) the continued presence of tigers; and how people are using the same landscape while (seemingly?) avoiding risks of direct encounters. With this study we also hope to contribute scientific insights and enrich the discussion on whether it is worth (conservation-wise, money-wise and effort-wise) to promote tiger conservation in densely populated areas.