Tiger attacks in Sundarbans wake-up call
14 Jan 2009, 0905 hrs IST, PTI
KOLKATA: Man is not a natural prey for big cats, but tigers in the Sundarbans in West Bengal are increasingly sneaking out of the dense mangrove forests and attacking humans, prompting the government to finally wake up to the warning signals.
An expert committee will be set up to monitor the activities of maneaters, as such big cats are called. It will try to find out why the tigers are attacking villagers - officially, there have been at least six such cases in the past year, but many more are suspected to have gone unrecorded.
It will also suggest steps to prevent such crises.
According to top sources in the Sundarbans development affairs department, the proposal to form the expert committee was placed before Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee last week during a meeting with the Sundarbans board.
"The committee will comprise senior officials from the state environment and Sundarbans development affairs departments. This apart, several wildlife experts, especially those who deal with tiger-related issues, will be included. The blueprint is ready and it's with the chief minister now," a top state government source said on condition of anonymity.
"The committee will monitor why the tigers are often coming out of their core forest belt and attacking humans. If there's any dearth in the food chain, the expert team will also try to find that out after a detailed survey.
"We expect the committee to be formed shortly and it'll start functioning this month," he said, adding the team might be headed by state chief secretary Ashok Mohon Chakraborty.
"A few names have already been suggested but those are not yet finalised," the official added.
According to sources, the team may have experts from the Zoological Survey of India, representatives from the Wildlife Institute of India and faculty members of Calcutta University's zoological department.
Admitting that the number of tiger attacks has seen a sharp increase in the past one year, state Sundarbans Affairs Minister Kanti Ganguly said: "We've not seen such a rise in the past 25 years".
In India alone, the Sundarbans has a vast area covering 4,262 sq km, including a 2,125 sq km maze of mangrove forests, creeks and tidal rivers. A larger portion of the forest is in neighbouring Bangladesh. There are many villages within this area, with the local population largely dependent on the forest to earn a living, thus triggering a conflict with animals.
Shrinking habitat due to climate change and cyclone Sidr, which left behind a trail of devastation in 2007, forced many a Royal Bengal tiger to migrate from Bangladesh into the Indian side of the Sundarbans island. Wildlife experts say a good number of tigers might have come into the Indian forests in search of food.
Reports came Saturday that a fisherman, Gouranga Das, went missing at Jharkhali after he went to the Matla river to catch crabs. Das was cooking his meal on a small boat when a tiger jumped upon the boat and dragged him into the forest.
A few pug marks were also spotted Friday evening near Gosaba village in the Sundarbans, triggering panic among villagers. District forest department officials were informed and searched the area, to no avail.
Three people - including a girl and a forest official - were injured when a tiger entered Deulbari village near Kultali in South 24 Pargans district, about 110 km from here, in the last week of December. The tiger was later captured by forest officials.
Another injured tiger that strayed into a village in the Sundarbans Dec 31 was taken to Kolkata for medical treatment.
"In the past year, at least six people were killed in tiger attacks in the Sundarbans," Ganguly said. "Generally what happens is that many people enter Sundarbans creeks without any permit.
"And when they are attacked, their family members don't lodge any complaint with the police. So naturally, we don't get to know the exact figure of how many people are actually killed in tiger attacks in Sundarbans every year."
"We've also seen a sea change in the behaviour of the Sundarban tigers. Now they are fearlessly entering nearby villages and attacking people," the minister said.
He said the state government was planning pig farming in Sundarbans to provide adequate food to the man-eaters and stop growing tiger intrusion in the locality.
The Sundarbans forest is the world's largest mangrove reserve, recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site.