The man-animal war for food and space
KOLKATA, Sept. 26: Global warming coupled with behavioural pattern of tigers is leading to an increase in man-animal conflict in the Sunderbans. And as a result of this conflict, increased instances of tigers straying into human habitation and attacking villagers are coming to the fore. Environmentalists say that at present the average number of annual deaths due to mauling stood at 52 and the annual average number of incident of tigers straying into human habitation has increased from 37 in the previous year to 50 this year.
“Till a decade ago tigers straying into human habitation was not so frequent or common. But things have changed over the past few years with an increase in global temperatures since 2000,” said Prof Pranabes Sanyal, cat specialist, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Explaining his findings, Prof Sanyal pointed out that an increase in global temperatures have led to a consequent increase in the surface salinity level of water in creeks of the area. As a result, tigers, which generally prefer water with low salinity levels for drinking, have started migrating towards northern areas of the Sunderbans. The northern areas of the Sunderbans, which act as a buffer zone, are areas where human activities are permitted.
Hence these areas lie adjacent to human habitation. This has led to increasing incidents of tigers straying into the villages of Sunderbans. Moreover, he added that there are some behavioral patterns, characteristic to tigers of the Sunderbans because of which they stray into human habitation.
One of these reasons being partial disability of tigers. Old or injured tigers generally are unable to catch prey and hence prefer to move into human habitation because of easy availability of prey like domestic animals and stray dogs. Such incidents of straying are also common during mating season, which is between September and October, when rejected or injured tigers venture into human habitation looking for prey.
Another reason for straying is the fact that tigers in the Sunderbans, unlike those in other parts of the country, are not territorial animals. A tiger generally marks his or her territory through urination marks. However, with the Sunderbans experiencing two high tides and two low tides everyday these markings are obliterated. As a result, the animals have no idea of their territory.
Moreover, the tigers seem to consider that the areas around the mangrove trees planted at the periphery of villages are their territory, when actually these trees are planted to strengthen embankments. This again leads to incidents of tigers straying into human habitation.
However, despite so many incidents of straying, environmentalists are happy with the fact that villagers are not killing tigers. “While incidents of tiger straying have indeed increased over the past few year, number of cases of tigers being killed by villagers has gone down substantially,” Prof. Sanyal said.