Subhro Niyogi, TNN, Aug 25, 2010, 01.18am IST
KOLKATA: Bangladeshi tiger researcher Monirul H Khan believes the hostile terrain of the Sunderbans is breeding man-eaters and fears the ratio may increase as it becomes a part of the Royal Bengal's genes.
"One in every 10 tigers that inhabit the Sunderbans is a man-eater. That is the estimation on the Bangladeshi side where 50 people are mauled and eaten by tigers every year. As people fall prey and young cubs, too, feed on human carcass, more tigers will become man-eaters in the future. The only way out is to stop entry of villagers into tiger territory in the core of the forest," Khan said.
The official figure of deaths is much lower as the government only takes into account casualties against the number of entry passes.
While the forest department in Bangladesh claims there are around 400 tigers in the eastern section of the Sunderbans covering 5,770 sq km, Khan says the real figure is half as much. If one goes by his count, based on camera-trapping, relative density and pray density rather than pug marks), there are at least 20 man-eaters in the Bangladeshi section of the Sunderbans.
In the western part that lies in West Bengal, the number of man-eaters would be similar since as many people die each year when villagers enter the forest to collect honey and cut wood. "The man-tiger conflict happens only when people enter the core area. The tiger kills to protect its territory. Unlike in other forests where only tigers that are incapacitated by age or injury turn to prey on man, in the mangrove forests, even healthy tigers turn man-eaters," he said.
Unlike the Sunderbans in West Bengal, across the border tigers get killed by men when they stray into human habitation.
"Every year, around two-three tigers die when they stray into villages. There is no system of tranquilizing and capturing tigers for release in the wilderness unlike the practice here," Khan said, adding that awareness on tiger conservation was low and forest department resources poor.
Khan has through research devised a means to discourage tiger straying by forming vigil teams comprising 15 men and five dogs that receive intensive training to ward off tigers.
In the city to attend a symposium organized by Bengal Tiger Bachaao on man-tiger conflict, Khan felt forest officials on both sides could liaison better to exchange learning and ideas.
"There is a need for greater cooperation to stop poachers and smugglers because they tend to slink away to the other side after the crime. If foresters on both sides act in unison, poaching can be curbed to a great extent," Khan reasoned.