Human Wildlife Conflict Tech Challenge: Tiger Case

In the past four years, 101 people have lost their lives to tigers in India alone. You can help prevent this. 

WWF and WILDLABS challenge you to develop a new, or improved, technology tool to reduce such interactions between humans and carnivores like tigers and polar bears. The winning solution will receive a prize of up to 30,000 EUR. With this prize, you will refine your solution and field test it with the support of WWF's landscape teams.

Published Date: 2017/07/03

What is causing the Human-Tiger Conflict? 

Tigers are a wide ranging species. They need vast areas to roam, forage, breed and establish new territories. As habitats shrink and are fragmented by infrastructure development, tigers and people are increasingly coming in contact in places that have previously been remote for many generations.

Agricultural pressures and demands for commodities (plantations and minerals) have put chronic pressure on tiger habitats, and contributed to the decimation of not only their populations but also their prey.

Tigers also fight for territory, which can also lead to injuries – wounds or broken teeth etc. Furthermore, tigers can be wounded by snares, bullets and accidents with vehicles. In these cases, tigers may be compromised in their ability to catch wild prey, which can lead them to seek easier food targets such as livestock or even people in some cases.

In areas where tiger numbers are increasing, the animals disperse out of protected areas and, in their quest to establish their own territory, often have to traverse through fragmented, human-dominated landscapes where they can get into conflicts with people. Compared to the losses caused to humans and property by elephants, the actual loss due to tigers is smaller. But tigers provoke a constant fear in people having psychological effects in daily life.

The Challenge

Develop / improve a robust early detection tool for tigers, that can cope with a wet and dry tropical environment as well as snowy conditions, low and high elevations and difficult terrain, is affordable at a local level, is easily accessible and operated, and requires little maintenance.

Why an Early Detection Tool? 

An early detection tool would give people the time to respond effectively to an approaching tiger. They are no longer surprised by an encounter and will have more time to choose the best response in order to prevent escalation into conflict, and thus stay safe. There are no known technological early warning systems currently in place to detect tiger presence.

What You Need to Know

Who

Tiger and the local people involved

Where

India, Nepal, Bhutan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Russia, China, Bangladesh and Vietnam. In Cambodia and Kazakhstan reintroduction programmes will start.

What conflicts occur
  • Livestock depredation (and associated financial losses)
  • Human fatalities and injuries
  • A constant fear that restricts free movement of people
  • Retaliatory killings of tigers in defence of life and property
Exacerbating circumstances

Human-Tiger conflict happens predominantly in rural areas where marginalized communities often depend heavily on their livestock and the natural resources in their environment. When livestock is lost to a tiger or a family member gets injured or killed, this has a devastating (financial, social and psychological) effect on them. In particular, this loss is significant when the casualty is the breadwinner.

Human Loss

An analysis in 2010 put the best estimate of human deaths between the years 1800 and 2009 at 373,000 people. The hotspots of which being India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.

In India alone,101 people were killed by tigers between 2013-2016.

In addition to human deaths, tigers also kill and eat domestic livestock on a massive scale in some areas. While the numbers are currently difficult to estimate, the loss of even a single cow – the sole source of household income in many rural areas – can have a devastating impact on a family.

Animal Loss

Data on tigers killed in conflict is patchy and ambiguous; in many cases cause of death is not clear.

Specifics of the Conflict

Conflict with tigers occurs when wild prey populations are depleted and tigers cannot find enough food in the wild. When livestock husbandry is poor and domesticated animals are not sheltered in a tiger-proof place, tigers can easily target these animals. People venturing into the forest to harvest mushrooms, honey, herbs or wood etc. or to graze their cattle may accidentally run into a tiger.  The proximity of settlements to a Protected Area poses increased risks to HTC. Many cases of HTC happen at night.

Badai Tharu, Vice Chairperson of the Community Forest Coordination Committee, who lost an eye while encountering a tiger, uncovers two tiger traps in the Khata Corridor, within the Terai Arc region of Nepal.

© Gary Van Wyk / The Ginkgo Agency / Whiskas / WWF-UK

What are present solutions to Human-Tiger conflict? 

Prevention (stopping or preventing conflict before it occurs)

  • Guard dogs
  • Protection of livestock such as installing predator-proof pens to protect livestock during day and night and tethering at night
  • Night watching by villagers
  • Deterrents: chemical repellents (odour and taste repellents), acoustical repellents (fireworks, signal flares, lights, cracker shells, sirens, boom blasting), projectiles (rubber bullets)
  • Fencing (around villages or protected areas) and electric fencing
  • Protection collars for livestock (king collars, cyanide collars)
  • Removal of attractants (such as human food and waste, dogs, etc.)
  • Removal of bushes and other vegetation growth around villages where a tiger could hide and ambush, and invasive weed management.

Mitigation (reducing the impact after the conflict happened)

  • Once damage, injury or death is verified as the result of an encounter with a tiger, compensation schemes (monetary or physical compensation in the form of replaced livestock) typically provide a predetermined amount of funding to cover losses of human life, livestock depredation, and medical expenses where someone is injured.
  • Insurance schemes. The premiums local people pay allow them to access funds when a conflict occurs.
  • Alternative livelihoods can be of benefit by not only diversifying income away from conflict prone strategies and reducing household vulnerability to shocks, but also alleviates some pressure on natural resources under competition, and can ultimately contribute to an increased tolerance for tigers (foster a positive association with tigers).

Response (measures taken to alleviate a specific or ongoing incident)

  • Tiger response teams (crowd control, chase tigers away, provide first aid, capture tigers for translocation, body retrieval etc.)
  • Incident verification and investigation
  • Capture and assessment of tiger, vet treatment, then relocate back to habitat
  • Removal (translocation) of problem tigers
  • Killing the problem tiger.

Further strategic interventions to prevent conflict:

  • Support legislation to be in place to prevent and respond to conflict
  • Education and awareness raising how to prevent conflict
  • Livestock management (for example grazing free zones, or husbandry practices)
  • Zero poaching to prevent tiger injuries through snares and other devices and maintain healthy populations of wild prey species  
  • Stimulating safe working environments (reduce undergrowth in plantations, install deterrents, remove attractants)
  • Prey base protection and recovery
  • Habitat management to enhance free movement of tigers
  • Land use planning to reduce overlap between people and tigers
  • Research to understand conflict dynamics and to identify conflict hotspots
  • A system of information sharing exists in certain areas in central India, which is basically volunteer based run by local communities. Members of local communities report on tiger movement from nearby areas and then inform all the villagers. A Standard Operational Protocol (SOP) has been devised with do’s and don’ts for the villagers residing near the tiger area to minimize accidental encounters. Once it is confirmed that the animal has moved out or gone, again villagers are informed. This work is done in collaboration with the forest department.
  • Alternative livelihoods
  • Locally applicable reporting mechanism (such as emergency call) is in place and is being used
Existing early detection measures

Tigers are difficult to detect compared to elephants as they are much smaller and live solitary lives. This life ecology makes it harder to track individuals. An elephant herd, for example, could be tracked when one individual is wearing a radio collar or other transmitting device. There are no known technological early warning systems currently in place to detect tiger presence.

Environmental details

Depending on the location of instalment:

  • High and dense vegetation: hard to access areas, devices could be overgrown easily
  • Wet / humid / salty conditions, while in other sites very dry and dusty conditions
  • Heavy rainfall can impede transport in the area, which can reduce the effectiveness of rapid response teams and guards
  • Heavy snowfall and extremely low temperatures (up to minus 40 degrees Celsius) in the Russian and Chinese Far East
Other information 
  • Power, cell phone and internet access in most villages is unreliable/erratic/non-existent. Technology without the need for cell phone or internet connectivity is desirable/required.
  • The tool should be cheap to install and maintain by poor, rural communities.
  • Not every community is well organized, tool should be easy to operate and maintain even by individual people.
  • The tool should have the ability to be easily and economically replicated using local raw material.
  • Given the sensitivities around information and data on exact locations of tigers (i.e. which could be used for wildlife crime actions), the tool must also demonstrate: recognition of data and tiger location sensitivity; must have built in mechanisms or strategies to ensure protection of data and information; and have detailed narrative on how such information is to be protected.

Suggested but not yet developed nor tested innovations for early warning system for tigers

  • Pressure pads to detect animal movement based on weight. The pressure pads would activate alarms (lights/sounds etc.) only when a particular weight group animal sets foot on it (like mines in war). The pressure pad needs to be activated and send messages to a group of people within a certain period of time, and also activate alarms (sensors can be calibrated to specific species).
  • Automated camera traps to detect large carnivores and with ability to identify animals. The camera traps would have pictures of targeted animals pre-installed in it and as soon as one of these animals trips the cameras, it identifies the animals based on its morphology/stripe patterns and sends a real time picture to a group of people warning them of its presence. The current camera traps do not have the system or technology to identify different species of animal. What we look for is a technology where animals can be identified automatically and information shared immediately. The camera traps could also act as a modem to trigger off deterrents like loud sounds/ infrasonic sound waves/alarms/lights to floodlight the area.

Fishermen wearing masks to protect from tiger attack. Sunderbans, West Bengal, India. Tigers often attack by biting the back of the neck. The masks with prominent eyes are intended to mislead and discourage a tiger attacking from rear. 

© naturepl.com / Ashok Jain / WWF

Ready to develop your idea?

Over in the community , we' ve set up a HWC Tech Challenge group as a space for challenge participants to connect directly with the field conservationists who work at the frontlines of human-wildlife conflict. Use the specific Asian elephant, tiger and polar bear case threads to ask questions that come up during your design process, call for collaborators, or to find out more about human wildlife conflict.