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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.

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At Sunderbans. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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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.
512px-Royal_Bengal_Tiger_Kanha
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

 

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Non-Pest Insects Are Declining: Scientists

Governments are trying to improve the situation.

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A ladybug rests on the petals of a flower in the Capitol Hill garden in Washington. VOA

A staple of summer — swarms of bugs — seems to be a thing of the past. And that’s got scientists worried.

Pesky mosquitoes, disease-carrying ticks, crop-munching aphids and cockroaches are doing just fine. But the more beneficial flying insects of summer — native bees, moths, butterflies, ladybugs, lovebugs, mayflies and fireflies — appear to be less abundant.

Scientists think something is amiss, but they can’t be certain: In the past, they didn’t systematically count the population of flying insects, so they can’t make a proper comparison to today. Nevertheless, they’re pretty sure across the globe there are fewer insects that are crucial to as much as 80 percent of what we eat.

Yes, some insects are pests. But they also pollinate plants, are a key link in the food chain and help decompose life.

“You have total ecosystem collapse if you lose your insects. How much worse can it get than that?” said University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy. If they disappeared, “the world would start to rot.”

He noted Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson once called bugs: “The little things that run the world.”

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A bug stands on the petals of a flower in a house garden in Virginia. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet). A study estimates a 14 percent decline in ladybugs in the United States and Canada from 1987 to 2006. VOA

The 89-year-old Wilson recalled that he once frolicked in a “Washington alive with insects, especially butterflies.” Now, “the flying insects are virtually gone.”

It hit home last year when he drove from suburban Boston to Vermont and decided to count how many bugs hit his windshield. The result: A single moth.

Windshield test

The un-scientific experiment is called the windshield test. Wilson recommends everyday people do it themselves to see. Baby Boomers will probably notice the difference, Tallamy said.

Several scientists have conducted their own tests with windshields, car grilles and headlights, and most notice few squashed bugs. Researchers are quick to point out that such exercises aren’t good scientific experiments, since they don’t include control groups or make comparisons with past results. (Today’s cars also are more aerodynamic, so bugs are more likely to slip past them and live to buzz about it.)

Still, there are signs of decline. Research has shown dwindling individual species in specific places, including lightning bugs, moths and bumblebees. One study estimated a 14 percent decline in ladybugs in the United States and Canada from 1987 to 2006. University of Florida urban entomologist Philip Koehler said he’s seen a recent decrease in lovebugs — insects that fly connected and coated Florida’s windshields in the 1970s and 1980s. This year, he said, “was kind of disappointing, I thought.”

Insects
A multicolored Coccinellidae septempunctata, commonly known as seven spotted ladybug or ladybird walks on a leaf in a house garden in Virginia. VOA

University of Nevada, Reno, researcher Lee Dyer and his colleagues have been looking at insects at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica since 1991. There’s a big insect trap sheet under black light that decades ago would be covered with bugs. Now, “there’s no insects on that sheet,” he said.

But there’s not much research looking at all flying insects in big areas.

The evidence

Last year, a study that found an 82 percent mid-summer decline in the number and weight of bugs captured in traps in 63 nature preserves in Germany compared with 27 years earlier. It was one of the few, if only, broad studies. Scientists say similar comparisons can’t be done elsewhere because similar bug counts weren’t done decades ago.

“We don’t know how much we’re losing if we don’t know how much we have,” said University of Hawaii entomologist Helen Spafford.

The lack of older data makes it “unclear to what degree we’re experiencing an arthropocalypse,” said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. Individual studies aren’t convincing in themselves, “but the sheer accumulated weight of evidence seems to be shifting” to show a problem, she said.

insects
Several scientists have conducted their own tests with windshields, car grilles and headlights, and most notice few squashed bugs. Flcikr

After the German study, countries started asking if they have similar problems, said ecologist Toke Thomas Hoye of Aarhus University in Denmark. He studied flies in a few spots in remote Greenland and noticed an 80 percent drop in numbers since 1996.

“It’s clearly not a German thing,” said University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who has chronicled declines in moth populations in the northeastern United States. “We just need to find out how widespread the phenomenon is.”

The suspects

Most scientists say lots of factors, not just one, caused the apparent decline in flying insects.

Suspects include habitat loss, insecticide use, the killing of native weeds, single-crop agriculture, invasive species, light pollution, highway traffic and climate change.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts, and that’s really bad news,” Wagner said.

To Tallamy, two causes stand out: Humans’ war on weeds and vast farmland planted with the same few crops.

Insects
Light pollution is another big problem for species such as moths and fireflies, bug experts said. Pixabay

Weeds and native plants are what bugs eat and where they live, Tallamy said. Milkweeds, crucial to the beautiful monarch butterfly, are dwindling fast. Manicured lawns in the United States are so prevalent that, added together, they are as big as New England, he said.

Those landscapes are “essentially dead zones,” he said.

Light pollution is another big problem for species such as moths and fireflies, bug experts said. Insects are attracted to brightness, where they become easy prey and expend energy they should be using to get food, Tallamy said.

Jesse Barber of Boise State is in the middle of a study of fireflies and other insects at Grand Teton National Park. He said he notices a distinct connection between light pollution and dwindling populations.

“We’re hitting insects during the day, we’re hitting them at night,” Tallamy said. “We’re hitting them just about everywhere.”

Lawns, light pollution and bug-massacring highway traffic are associated where people congregate. But Danish scientist Hoye found a noticeable drop in muscid flies in Greenland 300 miles (500 kilometers) from civilization. His studies linked declines to warmer temperatures.

insects
Some insects are pests. But they also pollinate plants, are a key link in the food chain and help decompose life. VOA

Other scientists say human-caused climate change may play a role, albeit small.

Restoring habitat

Governments are trying to improve the situation. Maryland is in a three-year experiment to see if planting bee-friendly native wildflowers helps.

University of Maryland entomology researcher Lisa Kuder says the usual close-crop “turf is basically like a desert” that doesn’t attract flying insects. She found an improvement — 70 different species and records for bees — in the areas where flowers are allowed to grow wild and natural alongside roads.

The trouble is that it is so close to roadways that Tallamy fears that the plants become “ecological traps where you’re drawing insects in and they’re all squashed by cars.”

Still, Tallamy remains hopeful. In 2000, he moved into this rural area between Philadelphia and Baltimore and made his 10-acre patch all native plants, creating a playground for bugs. Now he has 861 species of moths and 54 species of breeding birds that feed on insects.

Also Read: Kun- Faya & Fun Art Exhibition at India Habitat Centre in Delhi

Wagner, of the University of Connecticut, spends his summers teaching middle schoolers in a camp to look for insects, like he did decades ago. They have a hard time finding the cocoons he used to see regularly.

“The kids I’m teaching right now are going to think that scarce insects are the rule,” Wagner said. “They’re not realizing that there could be an ecological disaster on the horizon.” (VOA)