Sundarbans : A Report

Sundarbans, the world’s largest and only tiger dominated mangrove forests, covering about 10,000 Sq Kms of land and water is a recognized ‘world heritage site’. About 40 per cent of Sundarbans is in West Bengal, India and the rest in Bangladesh.

IT’S A DELTA FOREST formed here from the sediments deposited by three great rivers - the Ganga IN INDIA AND Brahmaputra and Meghna IN BANGLADESH. The whole FOREST is interlaced by a intricate network of interconnected waterways. SOME OF THESE ARE LARGE BEING TWO TO FOUR KMS wide, WHILE OTHERS ARE AS SMALL AS CREAKS. All these ARE FED by the diurnal tidal flow.

Sundarbans, because of its proximity to Bay of Bengal, enjoys a heavy rainfall and IS VERY humid. Monsoons are usually between mid June to mid September, after which fair weather prevails TILL mid March.

Sundarbans have been named after the Sundari trees (Heritiera fomes). Other vegetation which are common are Garjan (Rhiziphora.sp), Goran (Ceriops.sp), Baen (Avicennia officinalis), Keora (Sonneretia apetala), Hental (Phoenix peludosa) etc.

Sundarbans is said to have been ONCE the home of the javan rhinocerous and water buffalo. BOTH ARE EXTINT IN THE REGION NOW. Today it boasts of BEING THE HOME TO the royal Bengal tiger APART FROM LESSER CATS SUCH AS THE fishing AND THE JUNGLE cats AND OTHER ANIMALS SUCH AS wild boar, spotted deer, rhesus macaque etc. ITS waters SERVE AS AN ABODE OF THE dolphins, estuarine crocodile, monitor lizard, olive ridley turtle, Batagar baska, A NUMBER OF POISONOUS AND NON-POISONOUS SNAKES etc, APART FROM A WIDE VARIETY OF FISH AND MICRO ORGANISMS.

Birds also live here. Some OF THE OFTEN SEEN ONES ARE openbill stork, LESSER adjutant storks, white ibis, FIVE variety of kingfishers, egrets, herons, terns, owls, raptors, EAGLES etc.

Ruins are found in the Baghmara and Netidopani areas. ACCORDING TO HISTORY Chaand Saudagar built a city here sometimes between 200 to 300 ad. Much later, during the moghul Empire, Raja Basant Rai and his nephew Dakhin Rai took refuge in the Sundarbans from the advancing armies of Emperor Akbar.

The local population is dependent on the forest in MORE WAYS THAN ONE. About 50,000 villagers enter the forests every year to collect timber, firewood, honey and catch fishes in the adjoining waters. The Sundarbans is home to the HIMALAYAN bee Apis dorsata. There is an annual migration of thousand of colonies of honey bee into Sundarbans beginning in December and continuing until January and February. The main period of honey production takes place during April and June.

Often the tiger finds it easy to attack man absorbed in his work in the dark difficult forests of sundarbans. Even fishermen in small boats have been attacked due to the tiger’s incredible swimming ability. Hence, the conflict of Bengal Tiger with man is at ITS extreme. HOWEVER, under any circumstances, man is not the primary source of food for the tigers and recently with better management techniques ATTACKS HAVE DECLINED significantly. But the conflict has been made to live and if by any chance a tiger happens to enter a village, it is surrounded and killed. UNFORTUNATELY, this is done sometimes ON intention to make money BECAUSE OF THE DEMAND OF TIGER BODY PARTS from DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE world. The INVOLVEMENT OF THE mass dilutes the crime.

THERE ARE SEVERAL THEORIES FOR THIS BEHAVIOR OF MAN BEING ATTACKED BY THE BENGAL TIGER. One is the salinity of water; the other is HUMAN DISTURBANCE IN THE FOREST. lack of prey IS ALSO PUT FORWARD BUT THE FOREST HAS ENOUGH POTENTIAL TO SUPPORT THE TIGER POPULATION IF LEFT UNDISTURBED. IT IS ALSO BELIEVED THAT TIGERS LEARN TO KILL AND DEVOUR HUMANS FROM THEIR MOTHERS. However most attacks on men are on intrusion. Accordingly precautionary measures have been taken while going into the forest. Wearing mask at the back of the head to confuse the tiger has helped. Fresh water ponds for drinking have been dug for the big cats in certain areas. Electrified Clay dummy of fishermen and honey collectors have been set up at attack points. When the tiger attacks one of these it gets a shock not enough to kill but painful enough for it to remember not to attack man again. Though collection of Phoenix palm for thatching has been banned the need for a roof over the head forces many to move into the forest. Workers usually carry clubs over their right shoulders as most of tigers attacks are on the right nape.

However, the tiger needs protection just as this unique forest. Tiger population is as low as 271 in the Indian side. This has made the animal extremely vulnerable for becoming extinct.

Apart from the initiative from the government, an initiative has come from some enterprising young men from the village of bally near the forest.

As soon as the tiger enters into a village, they rush to the site after passing on information to the forest department. They motivate villagers not to harm the animal. Meanwhile the forest department with the help of the villagers cordons the area with nets. The tiger is finally tranquilize, put in an iron cage and carried across the river to a nearby forest to be released. In the recent times a number of such operations have been successfully undertaken. Thanks to the bravery of these men the awareness to save the animal is on the rise.

This has been so successful that the forest department too has begun to depend on these young men and inform them of tigers straying into villages to take necessary action.

The Sundarbans Tiger Reserve Management and the WWF India West Bengal State Office has taken special steps to find out ways and means for sustainable development of the village of Bali with the help of these dynamic young men. Help Tourism, an organization working for development of Community Tourism that supports the process of conservation has also joined hands. A demonstration project - Sundarbans Jungle Camp – a low cost tourism infrastructure involving local people will be developed to be replicated by other villagers. This will turn Bali into a tourist destination. The model will gradually be picked up by the other villages, thus supporting a large tourist inflow to the world’s largest mangrove forest.

The effort is not just to develop a tourism destination but to allow villagers an alternative source of income so that intrusion into the forest declines. It will have a direct impact on the forest as well as local villagers will turn protectors rather than poach. Visitors to this destination will have the opportunity to experience this unique forest with its rich diversity of life. This will also help preserve local culture.

Here villagers will be the owners who will manage their property.

We want you to be a supporting member of this demonstration project - Sundarbans Jungle Camp. The management of Sundarbans Tiger Reserve has confirmed to give permission from the adjoining Bidya Range office to set up a jetty, a sweet water source. A manual boat will also be provided to venture into creeks to see wildlife.

As a member, you will have access to all these services with free accommodation in a double bedded room for five days a year, for a period of 10years. You will also have the facility to avail an attractive discount of twenty percent on accommodation at all the other locally developed tourism infrastructure in the following units:

  • Rishyap Tourist Centre, Village Rishyap, P.O.: Lava, Kalimpong Division, Dist:Darjeeling, West Bengal
  • The Tinchulay Initiative, Village Tinchulay, P.O.: Takdah, Dist: Darjeeling, West Bengal.
  • Garumara Jungle Camp ……….

This facility will also be extended to all other tourism destinations developed and promoted by Help Tourism for the cause of development of communities through tourism.

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