Sunderbans study links straying tigers with vanishing greens
17 Jan 2009, 0638 hrs IST, Krishnendu Bandyopadhyay, TNN
KOLKATA: Why are incidents of man-tiger conflict on the rise in the Sunderbans? Rising sea levels, a diminishing prey base and the vanishing Hetal (Phoenix paludosa) are the most likely reasons why tigers are straying into human habitat in the only mangrove habitat for the big cats.
A Botanical Survey of India (BSI) study finds that in the Sunderbans, Hetal is increasingly being replaced by Chhat Garan (Ceriops). "Sunderbans tigers love Hetal bushes, as they find them ideal not only for camouflaging, but also for their smell and thickness," said a BSI official.
Repeated incidents of tigers straying into villages in the Sunderbans led experts to hold a brainstorming meeting on Thursday. The meeting witnessed heated arguments on the methodology adopted in replenishing the prey base by releasing 100 deer in the Sunderbans. Experts suspect that all the deer released had died, as they were not acclimatized to the new terrain. "Ideally, deer should have been bred. Only the next generation of deer could have been released in the forest," said an expert.
The meeting, convened by chief wildlife warden S B Mondal, decided on conducting an in-depth month-long survey by an expert committee to decide on remedial measures to be adopted by the forest department.
"The expert committee will study the prey base by WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature) and change of habitat vegetation by BSI. We will again meet to discuss the recommendation for an effective implementation methodology," said Sundarban Tiger Reserve (STR) field director Subrata Mukherjee. The meeting was attended by senior officers of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), BSI, and faculty of the department of zoology and oceanography, Calcutta University.
"We will have an in-depth study on how the vegetation is undergoing rapid changes in the Sunderbans, one of the most biodiversity-sensitive zones in the world," said Dr H K Debnath, principal investigator of BSI's Lead Institute. "Tigers in the Sunderbans consider Hetal bushes their homes. If suddenly these bushes are not there, they might feel homeless. We need to study that. If necessary, we need to undertake plantation drive of certain species of mangroves to maintain biodiversity."
The oceanography experts will assess the impact of rising sea level. "The rising sea level might have badly affected tiger habitat. The tigers might be forced to leave the islands," said a forest department officer.