“নিত্য , বাঘ না দেবতা ?” (Nitya- Is this a God or Tiger?) – I asked our guide and friend Nityananda Chowkidar from Sunderbans standing infront of the Bonbibi temple in Sudhyanakhali ! The response was the characteristic smile that made me wonder that he had planned something for us and wont give a straight forward answer. Same night we were entertained by local artists in an hour long play that unravelled the legend of Dakhin Ray .Tiger is feared and revered in this part of my country that makes Sunderban and its tigers unique and unparalleled! Even today world famous wildlife authors , photographers and researchers are still struggling to understand and capture the mystery through their research or work.
Sunderban Tigers -As we know
Genetically defined as related to tigers in Central India, Sunderban tigers are considered to be different from rest of India. The name “Royal Bengal Tiger” owes its origin probably to these tigers when one of them killed a member of the British royal family. There is an aura of mystery around the tigers here -only ones who live in the mangrove forests (be it India or the entire world). People who live here near the forests respect the tigers. Everytime we speak to someone from Sunderbans , we come to know about tiger attacks on humans-it is like a ghost that appears from nowhere , gets hold of its prey from the boat or on the mud banks and disappears in the forests!!
There is a general belief that Sunderban tigers are habitual man-eaters unlike those in other parts of India where man-eating instances are less. Human casualties remain far more than those in other forests in India and this is what makes Sunderban tigers to be classified differently!! Researchers and wildlife enthusiasts often attribute this to excessive salinity of the water that tiger drinks making them irritable but these remain largely inconclusive. As per M. Moninul Khan (wildlife biologist working on tigers and other wild animals of Bangladesh) – “In the absence of concrete evidence to prove any theory, however, it might be better to conclude that the man-eating habit is simply a behavioural character of some tigers in the Sunderbans”. With an average of one kill being required for tiger every week ,imagine the number of humans that would have been killed by tigers here had they been the natural prey!! With 100 sq km of net fencing by West Bengal forest department, incidents of Tigers straying into villages have come down over the years . Time to rethink?
Tigers here are expert swimmers -they brave the high and low tides in their constant struggle in these swamp forests day in and day out. Research of scats have shown deer, wild boar , monitor lizards and even fish bones as part of the Tiger’s diet. Yes , they remain elusive -usually spotted in the hental forests or along the banks walking stealthily on the mud flats. There is no challenger to the tiger -tigers are truly the undisputed king and every cyclone that ravages Sunderbans causing endless pain probably strengthens his resolve to rule the mangroves!
Niladri and Suddha