Flooded Sunderbans may force tigers to stray into villages
28 May 2009, 0050 hrs IST, Prithvijit Mitra & Monotosh Chakraborty, TNN
KOLKATA: As the cyclone-fuelled tides kept large parts of the mangrove forest inundated amid rising fears about the fate of tigers and prey animals, the forest department launched an emergency assessment survey in the Sunderbans on Wednesday.
Forest guard teams and members of the local forest protection committees (FPS) fanned out in search of animal carcasses. The east range and sanctuary range of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve are the worst affected. Hundreds of prey animals, including a dozen tigers, are feared to have been washed away.
‘‘I would be surprised if tigers manage to escape this. Going by the all-round damage, the casualty figure could be high,’’ said S S Bist, wild life expert and managing director of Forest Development Corporation.
The only way tigers could have withstood the ‘Aila’ onslaught is by escaping to higher, drier parts of the forest. But experts said there weren’t enough dry parts of them to shelter the entire tiger population. ‘‘Actually, there are very few high areas. During a calamity like this one, it’s unlikely that all animals would find refuge.
Tigers are tougher but they are bound to get swept away if water gushes into the forest like it did. Chances of recovering the carcasses are low since they would be lost by the time the forest guards go deep into the forest,’’ added Bist.
Apart from the possibility of being swept away, tigers now face the challenge of surviving on a reduced prey-base with increased chances of their straying out in the neighbouring villages. ‘‘A primary survey of the forests in the east and west ranges shows that water is still very high and there is no trace of prey animals. This is the area which has a heavy concentration of big cats. They will now have to starve and might stray,’’ the beat officer added.
Bist agreed. ‘‘This is a strong possibility now. It will be easier for tigers now to swim into the villages which have merged with the rivers.’’