Bhopal, Aug 23 : A shepherd was mauled to death by a tiger in the buffer zone of Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh’s Umaria district, triggering protests from villagers against the man-animal conflict in the region. “A tiger killed a shepherd in the park’s buffer zone last evening. We got the message around 5 PM. We recovered the body of shepherd Sonalal Rai from the forests an hour later,” Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve field director C H Murlikrishna told PTI over phone from Umaria.

Rai had gone to the forest to graze his cattle when the feline attacked him near Parasi turn. Two other persons with him, however, escaped unhurt, the director said. Following the incident, the villagers blocked State Highway 11 at Dhamokher crossing for over two hours last night. They demanded that the family members of the deceased should be compensated with Rs 10 lakh, a job and the tigers from the park should be shifted to other places.

However, they ended their sit-in protest after assurance that their demands will be looked into sympathetically. “This was the 8th incident of a human being killed by tigers in and around the reserve since January last year. The deaths are very unfortunate and I am saddened by it,” Murlikrishna said.

On the reasons of frequent man-animal conflict, he said the tiger population has shot up to around 70 in the reserve, spread over in an area of 1,536 sq kms. Besides, the core and buffer areas of the reserve were housing 10 and 96 villages, respectively, he said The tigers venture into the villages to prey upon cattle in abundance. The residents of 10 villages in core area have refused to move out of the park, he said.

Murlikrishna said with the help of forest committees people are being educated to live in harmony with tigers. He said that following public protests and demands, they had sometime back shifted two tigers to Satpura Tiger Reserve and as many had been put in an enclosure in the park. Meanwhile, NGO Prayatna’s secretary Ajay Dubey, in a press release, blamed the tiger reserve’s field director for the man-animal conflict in and around Bandhavgarh and demanded that he should be sacked immediately.

The wildlife activist said the villagers had torched the houses of forest officials in Kitoli forest range on October 24 last year after a tiger killed a man. He alleged that the forest officials had then “demanded” that the protesters be dubbed Naxalities and action be taken against them accordingly. Dubey said that Murlikrishna has failed to check man- animal conflict in the area.