Haunted by floods, Sundarbans' tiger stalks humans
Sunderbans (Bangladesh), July 4: Flushed out of their natural habitat and deprived of food by floods and Cyclone Sidr, the famed Royal Bengal tiger that roams these mangrove forests is desperately on the prowl.
At least 11 people, including two from a single family, have been killed in tiger attacks in the past month in the Munsiganj area of Satkhira district adjoining India's West Bengal state.
Villagers in the marshy forests of the Sunderbans, which are spread over Bangladesh and India, beat drums and light fires all night to keep it away.
Announcements are made on microphones from village mosques to keep people on guard, particularly at night.
The figure of 11 casualties in Munsiganj is conservative, locals say, as there is no way to keep count of the woodcutters and fisher folk who fall victim to the big cats.
A tiger was trapped and beaten to death last month after it killed three people in a village, a New Age newspaper correspondent said after a visit to the Sunderbans.
Villagers now stand guard in groups at night and let off fireworks or beat drums, as they fear that the dead tiger's female partner might invade the village any time for revenge. They scream in chorus on sighting a tiger or sensing any suspicious sound or movement to alert fellow villagers.
Announcements from the loudspeakers of local mosques are a common practice in the Munsiganj area that has a population of around 40,000, surrounded by water channels and forest.
"Tigers cross the river (Chunkuri) very often to prey on humans," said Rabiul Islam, caretaker of the Water Development Board office at Munsiganj.
Locals believe once a tiger tastes human blood, it gets addicted to it.
The Sundarbans straddle both sides of the India-Bangladesh border. The Bangladesh part of the Sundarbans is home to about 500 Royal Bengal tigers.
There is hardly a tourist brochure that does not carry the picture of the Royal Bengal tiger as the pride of Bengal. But a galloping human population, encroachment of forestland and, finally, the natural calamities that ruin the natural environ, have all made the animal desperate for survival.
Apurbo Kumar Bhowmik, an engineer posted in the district, said Royal Bengal tigers might have shifted to the Sathkhira side from the deep forest after Cyclone Sidr in December last year.
"These tigers are suffering from want of food and attacking humans and other animals in the locality," he said.
The cyclone had hit the Bay of Bengal and killed nearly 4,000 people in Bangladesh.
Ainun Nishat, country director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said the main reason behind the increase in tiger attacks was shortage of their natural foods due to shrinkage of forest and other factors that have worsened the biodiversity in the area.
Fishermen, including minor boys, go for fishing in water channels in the deep forest and stay in boats for a month or long. They often become easy prey for hungry tigers and very little is known about their safe return, residents and forest officials say.