Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Living with lions.

In Junagarh, Gujarat, the Maldharis are extremely tolerant of lions. But the nomadic community, indigenous to the area, are alienated now. They were comfortable with the lion's ways: now they are unsettled. On the other hand, tiger attacks on humans are not uncommon in Sunderban villages. People here stoically accommodate the Royal Bengal Tiger. But increasing human population is pitting man against beast. East or West, the issue of animal-human conflict is basic to conservation research and practice in India .
July 24, 2007, Amirul Naiya, was attacked by a tiger as he, his brothers and three other fishermen were pulling up their boat into a creek in the dense Sunderbans mangroves, to prepare their dinner. Naiya lay on the deck, bleeding from multiple wounds.

Just three days later, Pratul Naskar, got grabbed by the throat and dragged into the Benipheli forest in the Sunderbans' Kultali area, while hunting for crabs in a creek. His body hasn't been found.

The attack on Naskar was the fifth tiger strike in the Sunderbans in less than a month. Since April 2007, tigers have killed at least nine fisherfolk; 16 times, they have strayed into villages near forests, say the state forest department records.

"An average 16 tiger killings are reported every year, but the actual number is much more," informs Sunderban Biosphere Reserve director Pradip Shukla. Villagers and local wildlife experts say the actual tally is closer to 50. Many killings go unrecorded; often, villagers don't report attacks in restricted forest areas for fear of being fined or having their fishing permits cancelled.

Almost all killings take place in forest areas. In the past decade, only one person has been killed by a straying tiger. "Our data shows there's no prey shortage in the Sunderbans. If it were so, all tigers would be hunting in the forest fringes," says Shukla. But numbers aside, it is clear the human-animal conflict here remains unresolved.

Humans as prey are an aberration, but about 5 per cent of Sunderbans tigers are man-eaters. Their taste for human flesh isn't necessarily because they are old and humans are easy pickings. Perhaps these tigers have never learned to fear humans, given their virtually inaccessible habitat.

Pranabes Sanyal, former field director of Sunderbans Tiger Reserve and a renowned authority on the Royal Bengal Tiger, has another explanation. April and May, when the mangrove plants are in full bloom, is the honey-collecting season in the Sunderbans. But this is also littering season for tigresses; protective mothers often pounce on men near their hideouts. "In most cases they kill the man, but don't eat the body," says Sanyal. "But after repeated killings, when the tiger realizes humans don't have as much resistance as other prey like deer or wild boar, they include humans in their prey base. If a tigress turns man-eater, she will teach her cubs to be the same. That's how you find healthy tigers and tigresses turning man- eaters here."

Currently, much of the tiger strikes occur in the northern and north-western mangrove jungle. This, Sanyal believes, is because most of this area falls within the 1,255 sq km buffer zone of the tiger reserve, where permit holders are allowed to fish and collect forest produce. Every year, about 40,000 people-a population the forest department thinks can extract forest produce in a sustainable manner-enter the forest with permits.

But many more venture in without permits, driven largely by lack of alternative sources of income. "We go knowing our life is in danger, and we can get caught by forest guards, but the stomach doesn't listen to fear," says Kiran Chandra Mondol, a fisherman from Jharkhali village. "In any case you can create a reserve forest for the tiger, but you can't hold the tiger within it. It will go where it wishes."

Good point. In spite of a dense 1,330.12 sq km core mangrove area left inviolate and a sound prey base, Sunderbans tigers also routinely stray into transition zone areas like Kalitala, Kultali and Jharkhali. First, the Sunderbans tiger can't mark out its territory with its urine, as all cats do, because markings get washed away by the tides. So it roams around pretty much unrestricted. And when it spots a village across a waterway, especially those where the embankments have a mangrove buffer, it mistakes it for forest and crosses over. Once past the trees, it finds cattle and livestock, a perfect reason to repeat visits. An increase in human population has led to a corresponding increase in cattle and livestock: today, the allure is greater. Second, a tiger strays due to age, injury or pregnancy, which impairs its ability to hunt. Sanyal says this is "rare", but forest officials and villagers believe it to be a primary reason.

Sanyal cites a third cause-global warming. Rapidly rising sea levels, a combined effect of climate change and subsidence, have increased the salinity of surface water near the coastal mangrove forests on the southern side of the Sunderbans. Kolkata-based oceanographer Sugata Hazra, who's studying change in salinity levels in the region, corroborates this fact through circumstantial evidence like a fall in the population of the freshwater-loving Sundari tree and dwindling freshwater sources. "Though Sunderbans tigers drink saline water, it's now become a little too salty for them," says Sanyal. "Hence the tigers are moving northwards, resulting in a higher density of tiger population in the northern Sunderbans, which, again, are closer to human habitations."
Kirtiman Awasthi, -Down with earth feature

Source: http://www.centralchronicle.com/20080826/2608302.htm

1 comment:

RR said...