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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

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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Uttarakhand High Court Bans the Use of Red Chilli Powder to Drive Away Elephants

Sackfuls of chilli powder and chilly bombs were used by people living on the outskirts of the 11 Elephant corridors in the state to shoo away Elephants

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Elephants
Sackfuls of chilli powder and chilly bombs were used by people living on the outskirts of the 11 Elephant corridors in the state to shoo away Elephants and reduce man-animal conflict in the region. Pixabay

After the Uttarakhand High Court banned the practice of using red chillies and chilly bombs to drive away the elephants, the local people are at their wit’s end now.

Sackfuls of chilli powder and chilly bombs were used by people living on the outskirts of the 11 elephant corridors in the state to shoo away elephants and reduce man-animal conflict in the region. However, the High Court put a stop to this on Tuesday.

The elephants from Nepal, as well as the Terai region in Uttar Pradesh, travel to Ramnagar, Corbett and the Kosi river, crossing the patch of the National Highway 121 along which the three elephant corridors — Kota, Chilkiya – Kota, and South Patlidun – Chilkiya are located.

With increasing human population, the corridors have shrunk over the years, bringing the elephants closer to human habitats.

The people living on the outskirts of these corridors, over the years, devised a method of warding off the wild Tuskers. They used to place bags of chilli powder on the outskirts of the settlement and the moment they saw a herd of pachyderms, they would fling the chilli powder into the air. The elephants were forced to retreat.

“The elephants do not come back for a week or so. For the past few years there has been an increase in the elephant population in the area and the animals not only destroy our crops but also attack people. We have no option but to use chili powder because the government is doing nothing,” said Ramesh Tiwari, a resident of Nandpur village.

He admitted that the use of chilli against the elephants was the ‘cheapest and safest option because it did not kill the animal.’ Most of the farmers in the region plant sugarcane which, in turn, attracts the elephants.

In the past one year, there have been over 20 incidents of elephants attacking people.

However, a Public Interest litigation (PIL) was recently filed by a Noida based non-government organisation called ‘Independent Medical Initiative Society’.

Elephants
The three major elephant corridors of Golapar, Fatehpur-Lamachaur and Lalkuan near Haldwani have seen mushrooming of human settlements, thus reducing the age-old path of the Elephants. Pixabay

The petition alleged that the forest department, instead of controlling the human activities on the road passing through these elephant corridors, is trying to control the elephants’ movement by allowing cruel means such as feeding chilli powder-filled flour balls to the wild elephants, putting chilli powder-filled bags on the edge of the road and by firing shots and burning firecrackers to keep them away from the road passing through the elephant corridor.

Dushyant Mainali, the counsel for the petitioner, said: “The division bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma has banned the use of chilli powder and any other such cruel means against the elephants. The court has also issued directives to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The Ministry has been directed to file the reply within two weeks.”

The petitioner told the court that the “disappointment and frustration due to difficulties in crossing the corridor, are changing the behaviour of elephants in the entire area. The chief reason of concern is the changing behaviour of the baby elephants, which are becoming aggressive day by day and have been found to be involved in most of the incidents of charging.”

According to reports, the corridors are also facing the threat from sand mining in nearby areas, and also a large number of resorts have come up which have increased the traffic flow through the river corridor, thereby disturbing the elephants.

The petition claimed that in the past one year there has been tremendous rise in the human-elephant conflict in the corridors passing on the edge of Corbett National Park and especially on the patch of the Mohaan-Ramnagar Road which is part of NH-121.

Wildlife expert S. R. Rahi said that an elephant requires about 225 litres of water per day and for this the herd of the wild elephants have to travel towards river Kosi and mostly in the night time when it is believed to be safe for them to cross the corridors, but now they are facing the wrath of fast-moving vehicles even during the night time.

The three major elephant corridors of Golapar, Fatehpur-Lamachaur and Lalkuan near Haldwani have seen mushrooming of human settlements, thus reducing the age-old path of the elephants.

The Surai-Kilpura elephant corridor near Khatima is also witnessing an increase of human settlement. Three of these corridors adjoining the Ramnagar-Mohaan border include 27 kms of highway.

Elephants
The Elephants from Nepal, as well as the Terai region in Uttar Pradesh, travel to Ramnagar, Corbett and the Kosi river, crossing the patch of the National Highway 121 along which the three elephant corridors — Kota, Chilkiya – Kota, and South Patlidun – Chilkiya are located. Pixabay

The elephant corridor in Dhikuli area has more than 150 commercial constructions due to which it is completely blocked. Construction in the Mohaan area and vehicular traffic during the night time is hampering the elephants from reaching the Kosi River.

Marriages, parties and the noise generated at commercial buildings and resorts at night is also causing disturbance to the wild animals.

Instead of preventing human interference in the forest areas, the forest department is allowing chili powder and crackers to prevent the pachyderm from coming onto the highway.

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“There are 11 functional corridors in Uttarakhand, but human activities are increasing around the age-old corridors. Elephants are distance migratory animal with sharp memory and if someone attacks them, they remember to return the attack,” said Rahi. (IANS)