For centuries, populations of tigers and leopards in central India have plummeted in the face of habitat degradation, the loss of prey, and a rise in sport hunting. Over the last few decades, however, it has been the increases in poaching and “retaliation killings” by livestock owners that have become the greatest threats facing these big cats.
Jennie Miller, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, says the best strategy to stem these losses is to limit the interactions between these rare cats and livestock animals. And she’s developing strategies that use spatial technology to achieve this goal.
In an interview, Miller describes the relationship between wild cats and humans in this part of the world, how simple technologies can reduce conflicts, and the risks of working so close to these predators.
Can you describe the research you’re doing in India?
In a nutshell, I’m creating geospatial tools to help people and big cats sustainably coexist. In many parts of Asia, people graze their livestock in landscapes shared with tigers and leopards. Big cats regularly kill domesticated livestock since they are easy prey, causing profound livelihood loses for livestock owners. For example, in the Kanha Tiger Reserve
in central India where I work, more than 400 cattle, buffalo, goats, and pigs are killed each year. Though this is less than 0.5 percent of the 85,000 livestock in the area, even a small number of attacks can create a sense of insecurity and frustration for livestock owners. To reduce attacks, owners sometimes lace livestock carcasses with pesticides to poison the cats when they return to feed. Since only about 3,500 tigers remain in the wild, every cat counts for the survival of the species.