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Electric fences killing tigers in Maharashtra

The Hindu
New Delhi
18 Nov 2017

The electrocution of a tigress in the Chimur forest range in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra on November 7 brings the tiger death toll due to electrocution in the Vidarbha area alone to five this year.

Why are tigers dying?

In a desperate attempt to prevent herbivores like nilgai (blue bulls) and wild boar from destroying their crops, farmers often set up illegal high-voltage electrical fences around their fields drawing power from electrical lines meant for home or agricultural use. Tigers, which use human-dominated landscapes including agricultural fields to move about, die when they come in contact with these fences. In some places, poachers erect live wiretraps using overhead 11 kv lines to kill animals, says Nitin Desai, director (central India) of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, an NGO that operates in the area. “This is fatal to any animal that comes in contact with it and is generally done at night,” he points out.

Why are there more incidents now?

This year, seven tigers have been electrocuted in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh alone, says Bilal Habib, a scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India. Habib’s team had radio-collared four tigers to study their movement outside protected areas in the landscape; three of them died due to electrocution this year. “The radio collars highlighted the threat and helped us understand what is happening,” he adds. “Electrocution could be a major problem in other landscapes too, but we are probably not aware of it.”

Though the last tiger death due to electrocution in the adjoining Telengana-Andhra Pradesh belt (parts of which are contiguous to the central Indian landscape) was reported from Andhra’s Chennur in December last year, electrocution of wildlife is a problem in these States too, says wildlife biologist Imran Siddiqui who studies tigers at the Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary in Telangana.

Why is this a problem?

These tiger deaths are just the tip of the iceberg and point to a larger problem, says Milind Pariwakam, wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Central Indian Programme. “Many uncollared animals may be dying of electrocution. Rampant and illegal use of high-voltage electric fences and traps is making the agricultural matrix more hostile to tiger movement, raising the importance of unbroken forest corridors,” he says.

Experts admit that electrocution is one of the major threats to tiger conservation in central India. The resulting tiger mortality could be a problem for the 50,000-sq km central Indian area — consisting of protected areas, reserved forests, agricultural land and villages in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh — which supports one of India’s largest tiger populations and has been identified as a global tiger conservation landscape.

What are authorities saying?

The threat of electrocution seems to be higher in villages near the core regions of the protected areas where crop raids by wild animals are more frequent, prompting farmers to put up high-voltage fences. With Maharashtra’s Electricity and Forest Departments, Habib’s team has identified nearly 200 villages that are prone to such a conflict and where tiger electrocutions are also highly probable. In these areas, the government hopes to initiate awareness campaigns to prevent the use of electric fences. The campaigns will also highlight the illegal use of such fences for crop protection: stealing power from overhead lines amounts to theft, and animal deaths that result from the erection of these fences are offences under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. “Solar fencing has been going on in the buffer zone of parks nearby for the past three years and we find that it is successful,” says Bandu Dothre, Honorary Wildlife Warden of Chandrapur district. “We have requested for it in the non-buffer areas also.”