The villagers of Mohnapur in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have a problem neighbour: recently arrived in the area, mother of two, sharp teeth, stripes. Across India, there are more and more reports of tigers taking up residence in inhabited areas, following hot on the heels of a huge increase in urban leopards, who have been spotted wandering around villages and even large towns. What is perhaps more amazing is that the incomers are often tolerated by locals as a form of biological pest control.
In the village of Amariya, also in Uttar Pradesh, a mother raised her cubs for two years within sight of village houses. During that period, the local population of wild boars and nilgai antelope saw a marked dip, and the odd goat and dog went missing during the night, but there were no attacks on humans. At the end of the two years, mum and cubs returned to the forest, leaving just the odd gnawed boar rib as evidence of their stay.
In fact, this shouldn’t be entirely surprising. It has long been acknowledged that tiger attacks on humans are mainly carried out by elderly tigers who no longer have the vim to pursue their normal prey of boars, deer and other wildlife. Nevertheless, the sense of symbiosis is striking: humans plant crops that attract boars, who in turn wreak havoc on said crops until tigers step in to restore the balance. At the same time, the presence of humans may deter prowling male tigers who might otherwise attack the female’s cubs.
However, some experts are advising a note of caution. In the Uttar Pradesh district of Kheri, five people have been killed by tigers just in the last year. Villagers in Mohnapur are taking extra precautions, working in teams in the fields and avoiding late night walks into the jungle. The case has now come to the attention of the forest department, who plan to dispatch a team to keep the tigress safe from poachers – another twist in the long and complex story of man and tigers in India.