Monday 21 August 2017 News Updated at 08:08 AM IST
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Here come the tigers - Deccan Herald
Here come the tigers
Pritha Lahiri,
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Formidable Sundarbans tigers are a little smaller and slimmer than those elsewhere in India, but are extremely powerful. PHOTO CREDIT: Dibyendu Ash
While less human lives are lost from tiger attacks now, the big cat population is also not declining in the India’s Sundarbans National Park (SNP), the world’s biggest mangrove forest and genepool, say officials of the Forest Department in West Bengal.

While not all incidents of tiger attacks reach the mainstream media, one that made headlines was when a villager who was crab fishing in June 2014 was snatched away from a fishing boat by a tiger as his children looked on helplessly. Sushil Manjhi was crab fishing with his son and daughter when the tiger leaped aboard the boat and preyed on him, dragging him in the mangrove swamp and then disappeared with his body. While the stories of man-animal conflict abounds, the Park authorities say they carry out meticulous conservation efforts. A 96-km long nylon net has been strung across the village-forest interface to prevent straying of the beast into human habitation.

"We carry out extensive awareness campaigns among locals to dissuade them from going into the core area,” says Nilanjan Mallick, chief conservator of forest and field director, Sundarbans Tiger Reserve. "SNP is the only forest in India where no human habitation has been allowed,” he says. Not just that, intensive patrolling is carried out in the buffer and core areas and at strategic locations in the Sundarbans National Park, which was brought under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act in 1973. The patrolling is as much to contain man from venturing into the restricted area as to ward off poachers - a major threat to the striped beast.

Powerful cats
The Sundarbans National Park, located at the southeastern tip of the South and North 24 paraganas districts in West Bengal, got its name from one of the mangrove plants known as sundari (Heritiera Minor). The Sundarbans are a part of the world’s largest delta formed by the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. Sundarbans is a vast area covering 4,262 sq km in India alone, with a larger portion in Bangladesh. The 2,585 sq km of the Indian Sundarbans forms the largest Tiger Reserve and National Park in India.

Sundarbans tigers are a little smaller and slimmer than those elsewhere in India, but are extremely powerful and are infamous for destroying small wooden boats. Even at the rate of 50 to 60 kills per year, humans would provide only about three percent of the yearly food requirements for the tiger population of the Sundarbans. Thus, humans are only a supplement to the tiger’s diet, not the primary food source. This does not mean that the notoriety associated with this area is unfounded.

Villagers in the area have agreed to occasionally release livestock into the forest in order to provide an alternative food source to the tigers and discourage them from entering the villages. The government has agreed to support them to encourage village participation. "The human death rate has dropped significantly due to better management techniques, and fewer people are killed each year,” Nilanjan maintained. "No illegal entry is allowed. Neither is encroachment encouraged,” he specified.

Two-fold results
The efforts have brought in two-fold results. Human casualty has decreased and the number of tigers has increased. The number has drastically slumped to three kills a year now, according to statistics. On the brighter side, the number of tigers has registered an upswing.

According to Nilanjan, camera trappings carried out in 2015-16 showed their number at more than 80. Despite all efforts some people do sneak in, he rues. Apart from poaching, which has been considerably contained, threat to the big cat comes from another quarter. "The tiger may slowly lose its habitat as the rise in sea level because of global warming may swamp land,” Nilanjan feels.

The four parts of the Sundarbans National Park have been lumped together as they all share common features of the estuarine mangrove ecosystem. The Park area is divided into two ranges. Each range is further sub-divided into beats. The Park also has floating watch stations and camps to protect the property from poachers.

The natural environment and coastal ecosystem of this Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site is under threat of physical disaster due to unscientific and excessive human interference. Conservation and environmental management plan for safeguarding this unique coastal ecology and ecosystem is urgently required.