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Saturday 17 August 2019

Photo Essay

Boundaries: Human & tiger conflict

Villages and big-cat sanctuaries are overlapping in India. All too often, the result is bloodshed

By Senthil Kumaran

India has more than 650 wildlife sanctuaries comprising about 2.2 per cent of the country’s total surface area; these include 50 tiger reserves. The country is home to an estimated 2,990 of the 4,700 or so last surviving wild tigers on this planet.

Thousands of villages are situated in and around the sanctuary areas. The livelihood of people residing in these villages is dependent on agriculture, livestock grazing, honey collecting and fishing. Increased activity within forest areas means that humans are sharing space with tigers – leading to conflict in many parts of the country, with tigers attacking people and livestock, and people responding, in some cases, with poison hidden in mule carcasses.

There is a major human-tiger co-existence crisis in many sanctuaries across the country. In order to mitigate this crisis, the government has considered relocating some communities, which would cause its own problems.

People hunting crabs in the Ganges at Sundarban, one of the largest tiger conflict zones in India

A road sign warning of tigers in Chandrapur. According to the Wildlife Conservation Trust, there are 48 tigers living outside the local tiger reserve

Cattle at Gowshri village in the Tadoba tiger reserve. The villagers say that tigers kill at least four to five cattle every month

A tiger, as seen from Navegaon village

In Tadoba tiger reserve, a nightwatchman looks out across a cotton farm. The crops are often disturbed by wild boars and deer – but sometimes big cats are seen hunting among them

A fresh paw print on farmland outside of the Tadoba reserve

A day after it was injured during a suspected encounter with a big cat, a cow is found dead

Villagers cut back the foliage near to where a woman was killed by a tiger, three days earlier

A protected “core” zone in the Sundarbans

A single tiger occupies around 40 square kilometres for its territory. In the case of this adult male tiger, around eight villages are situated within that area

People cross the core zone to attend a funeral in Navegaon village. Officials say that this sort of behaviour will cause a huge disturbance to wildlife

A fence built in the Sundarbans, designed to restrict tigers from moving between the forest and a local village

A family in Navegaon village, which is situated within the Tadoba tiger reserve

Collecting fruit from a forest buffer zone

The fisherman Bhudari explains how he was once attacked by a tiger

Manoranjan Biwas was collecting crabs when he was attacked by a tiger. His brother managed to rescue him, but he was still left with serious injuries

Montol, a 65-year-old fisherman, shows the scar from when he was attacked by a tiger whilst collecting crab in the Sundarbans

The Tiger Task Force places a camera trap for capturing a man-eating tiger. A week later, the tiger kills three people

Suspicions surround the death of this tiger inside a village near Anamalai reserve

Anamalai reserve is one of the fiercest conflict zones. Over the past century, more than 60 per cent of the forest has been destroyed for tea and coffee plantations 

Neighbours mourn the death of a 38-year-old woman who was killed by a tiger while working on a tea estate near Mudhumalai tiger reserve

A group of forest officials and veterinarians conducts a post-mortem to test for signs of poisoning

A gunman searches for a man-eating tiger. The next week, the tiger was shot dead

A nightwatchman protects his village’s livestock

A patrol inside village bounds. During the previous week, a tiger had killed three local people

A cage trap is built for the purpose of capturing the man-eating tiger

Local villagers and their dogs searching for the man-eater

The finished cage trap

A tiger is captured, a day after it had attacked the local livestock

A 10-year-old male tiger is tranquillised and removed from the village

Sambangi and his son are relocating their house from Navegaon village, one of the high-conflict zones

The Forest Department buries a dead tiger


Senthil Kumaran is an independent visual storyteller from South India. His work focuses on social and environmental issues, with a personal approach. He is currently working on various tiger reserves in India, continuing to develop a long-term project that focuses on conflict between humans  and animals.

He has won several awards from international organisations such as World Report Award, National Geographic, Istanbul Photo Awards, Melvita Nature Image Award, WWF, UNESCO and London’s Royal Geographic Society.