Blame Games and Lighting Strikes – 31st of January 2012

Posted on Jan 31, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

 thought of him,  ‘The Stupid Boy’, on my way back from visiting a young woman, last week, 24 years-old, now a widow with a seven year-old son and five year-old daughter, whose husband was returned to her, over a two day period, in bits.

First the head and then, the next day, after a full search of the location where he died, the rest of the body. Or most of it. 

It is incidents like this, rare as they are, that make one a little curt with well-meaning townie nature lovers who come up with bright ideas such as ‘let’s make People (ie forest-edge communities) Love Tigers.’  

Minor conflicts, on the other hand,  are a routine part of life in a ‘globally important’ tiger landscape and pretty much inevitable in the overlap between human and tiger habitats.

Most relate to a tiger moving in or through forest-edge farmland without incident although there are certainly cases where the tiger does indeed pause to snack on something its human neighbours feel to be inappropriate.

The team’s response to such events usually focus to advice on personal safety and sensible livestock management and the use of fireworks or noise-making ‘cannons’ to drive the tiger back into the forest.

But because Sumatran tiger are a notoriously shy, forest-dwelling species and because serious conflicts are so unusual, villagers seek a rationale for the problem,   and we are frequently asked if the ‘conflict’ tiger is an animal that has been released or relocated into their area by ‘Somebody’.

This means it is a ‘harimau luar’ or ‘outsider and not the Resident Tiger (which must be respected and will only disturb the village if somebody has committed some frightful sin).  It also means, of course, that somebody else can be held responsible for the faunal equivalent of a lighting strike.

Along with assertions that this must be a ‘released’ tiger come the claims we have been hearing, intermittently, for years, that the problem tiger had a white tag hanging from its ear.

This means not only explaining we haven’t released a tiger but that we most certainly have not been sticking white tags onto the ears of wild Sumatran tigers.

But now, at last, we have an explanation,  of sorts,  for the ‘white tag’ claims and perhaps I owe a mental apology to people I had written off as ‘fantasists.’

The answer came last month during a conflict that ended with the team having to catch a tiger that had been moving in and out of a forest-edge village predating dogs and goats. And yes, villagers insisted it had a white tag hanging below its ear.  

Once caught, the truth finally came out …not a white tag but the white flash just below and to the front of the ear that is a feature of some individual Sumatran tigers and which seen, fleetingly, by a frightened farmer or villager, could indeed be mistaken for something else.

Both these rumours  – and more (tigers sitting outside the victim’s house, tigers sitting by the grave of their victim) – returned to the fore last week after a 32 year-old villager, the husband of the young widow I visited,  was killed by one and possibly two tigers.

The man had been working alone, cutting timber 3Km or more inside a production forest area previously allocated to a plantation company which mysteriously evaporated in November after taking most of the valuable export timbers but before they had planted the promised rubber trees.

Illegal loggers from surrounding villages – including the victim – swiftly moved in to exploit the management vacuum. Perhaps in an area where tiger attacks on people are common, the victim would have made sure he had a ‘friend’ with him.  But up here, purposeful attacks on people are mercifully rare and so, sometime on his last day on earth, deep in the forest, he squatted down to fix his chainsaw…and the rest is history.

Local politicians are still busy trying to find somebody (ideally another branch of government or, better yet, another politician) to blame for the incident (they are, after all, politicians).

Meanwhile,  the victim’s village have now reached their own conclusion;  not habitat loss and disturbance outside the national park but that the victim had breached traditional rules of behaviour in the forest and suffered from a condition known, traditionally,  as ‘darah buruk’ – which, as everybody knows, puts the sufferer at high risk of being attacked by a tiger.

A subject for research perhaps, since, astonishingly, in a relatively sparsely populated area where attacks on people are almost unheard of,  it transpires he is the second member of his immediate family to have been killed by a tiger.

 DJM

Jan 2012

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