30 yrs on, tiger sighted in Gorumara sanctuary
15 Apr 2009, 0519 hrs IST, Pinak Priya Bhattacharya, TNN
JALPAIGURI: Hounded and hunted in sanctuaries around the country and pushed to the brink of extinction in several of them, the tiger seems to be fighting a losing battle for survival. Amid the gloom, there is a piece of good news that is bound to cheer up conservationists and tiger lovers. The Bengal tiger has made a surprise return to two North Bengal sanctuaries Gorumara and Apalchand where it had last been spotted nearly three decades ago. Forest officials and wildlife experts are busy investigating how and from where the tigers might have got into the forests.
Last week, forest guard Jeet Bahan stumbled upon an adult tigress while patrolling at the Ramsai block inside Nathua beat in Gorumara. He couldn't help but rub his eyes in disbelief as the tigress royally ambled across a forest path with its cubs. He was quick to inform forest officials and local villagers. The latter said they, too, had seen the tigress in the forest fringes.
Even as forest officials sought to investigate, they discovered that another tiger had been spotted at Apalchand sanctuary, 20 km from Jalpaiguri. The conservator of forests, territorial (North Bengal), Manindra Biswas, saw the tiger himself during an inspection round. Both Gorumara and Apalchand have leopards, elephants and rhinos. Gorumara has bison as well.
The forest cover at Apalchand had been shrinking. A turnaround started 10 years ago with the stepping up of conservation activities. New forests came up at places like Baikunthapur, Ambari and Berapota around the sanctuary. Its link with Mahananda helped to bring the barking and spotted deer back. But few had expected the tiger to return following the deer trail.
"This is good news and shows that conservation and aforestation activities are bearing fruit. It seems the return of prey animals like the barking deer and the spotted deer has lured the tiger back," said Biswas.
At Gorumara, however, the tiger sighting has left experts puzzled. Neora Valley is the nearest park which has tigers. But the sanctuary has no links with it. "It remains a mystery. But the fact remains that conservation has played a role. We must now try to make sure that the tiger survives and breeds successfully," said an official.
At Gorumara, the sighting has left forest officials ecstatic. Even villagers have been celebrating the tiger's return. Hundreds are crowding the forest fringes for a glimpse of the majestic animal. Guards have, however, barred entry.
Plans are already afoot to further extend the grasslands around the sanctuaries. The area between Diana and Jaldhaka rivers now have a natural grassland, which could be extended and developed into an ideal habitat for tigers, believe forest officials. But they are eager not to hamper the natural course of growth.
Conservationists in Kolkata said the return proves that the battle for saving the tiger has not been lost yet. "While poaching activities are on the rise everywhere, we badly needed something like this. Let's hope more sightings will happen," said Pranabesh Sanyal, former director of Sundarban Tiger Reserve.