Man Vs Wild: People trying to coexist with Tigers at Sunderbans

The islands of Sundarbans (meaning beautiful forests) are a home to nearly 4 million people as well as 200 tigers.

At Sunderbans. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

It is man versus wild at Sunderbans, where surviving everyday is a struggle. Suderbans  (a United Nations World Heritage site) is the world’s largest mangrove forest found in India and Bangladesh. Spread in about 4000 square miles, they provide an intense habitat for the Bengal tiger and various other endangered species.

  • 3 rivers the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna form a delta in Sundarbans and merges into the Bay of Bengal. It comprises of several islands, some miles long whereas some are as small as sandbars. The islands of Sundarbans (meaning beautiful forests) are a home to nearly 4 million people as well as 200 tigers.
Mangrove roots, Wikimedia commons
Mangrove roots, Wikimedia commons
  • Unlike other big cats, Bengal tigers can comfortably swim in water for miles and this way they cross islands. According to locals “So you only see them when they decide that you’re good enough to be given a vision of orange and black.”
  • However, not everyone’s desire is to see them. As there has been several cases of peoples being eaten up by tigers. They attack in stealth mode and rip out their prey.
  • Debnath Mondal, a local ranger was recently attacked by a tiger. His mouth was pulled to the right, near his cheek by the tiger. In an interview, he said “I saw the tiger coming in. Everyone shouted, ‘Tiger!’ But before I could do anything, it pounced on me. It landed on my thighs and chest and bit my face and head, I had 80 stitches on my scalp. I can no longer see out of my left eye or hear out of my left ear.” Even after all this he is back now in the forest on his duty.
  • Locals believe that tigers are an integral asset of the forest. If forests are destroyed then humans will also not survive. There’s a saying that goes here that “Tigers give us life. So we have to save them along with the forest.”
  • According to Saghal, the editor of Sanctuary Asia “With every high tide, a huge amount of land in the Sundarbans disappears and never return. This shrinks the land, so tigers, people, everybody gets squeezed into smaller land areas“. Moreover, when people’s lands and farms become unusable then they move into deeper forests in search for their livelihoods. As a result, they often are encountered with tigers. All this ultimately leads to the death of tigers as well as humans.
Royal Bengal tiger, Wikimedia commons
  • With shrinking space, Tigers even crawl to people’s home. Several techniques have been proposed to prevent attacks from tigers. Some wear backward-facing masks with a face on the back to confuse tigers (It didn’t work though).
  • The World Wildlife Fund has helped these people in establishing their livelihoods. They have provided means so that people don’t forge deep into the jungle.
    • A solar energy project run via a power station has been set up in the local village. Ratan Saha, head member of this project further elucidates “Spending less time inside the forest means less exposure to the tiger. Beyond this, having light deters tigers and other wildlife and means people can see their own surroundings more easily.”
    • Renewable energy experts are going for the “leapfrogging” technology i.e. skipping straight to the better technology rather than gradual advancement.
    • Night time lightings have been introduced which has decreased the forest dependency of people. People are now making households products and are selling them to markets.
    • Televisions, computers, and printers are now available in the village. This way they are becoming socially more aware and their living standard are also enhancing significantly. With dreams in their eyes, people now want to study and want to help in restoring the balance of an ecosystem. A 17-year-old daughter said, “I want to serve human beings”.
  • Fast disappearing Sunderbans are now posing a threat to the very existence to the Royal Bengal Tiger. Sarah Christie (a tiger conservative expert) says “The Sunderbans is one of only a handful of remaining forests big enough to hold several hundred tigers. To lose the Sunderbans would be to move a step closer to the extinction of these majestic animals

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Prepared by : Pritam

Pritam is a 3rd year engineering student in B.P. Poddar institute of management and technology, Kolkata. A simple person who tries to innovate and improvise himself. 

Twitter handle @pritam_gogreen