KOLKATA: The first tiger rescue centre of the country will be ready to welcome big cats in three months. Being developed at Jharkhali in the Sunderbans, the centre will provide asylum to injured and straying tigers that are either brought to Kolkata for treatment or released in far corners of the mangrove forest. Even though fenced off from the rest of the jungle, the centre will be contiguous to the main Sunderbans and allow tigers to roam free in the wild. They will, however, not be able to leave the centre which will be fenced off.
Work on the centre’s outer fence is complete. Fifteen feet high iron bars have been erected to create a boundary that cuts it from the rest of the forest. There will be an inner periphery with a lower fence made of bars interspersed with chain-links. It will mark separate enclosures for four tigers across a 100-acre area. Adjacent to the Chhoto Herobhanga river, the centre will be enclosed on all four sides and have waterbodies apart from enough mangrove cover for tigers to feel “at home”, said Pradip Vyas, director, Sunderban Biosphere Reserve. “It will allow us to treat injured tigers in the forest itself which will spare them the agony of having to spend months at the zoo hospital in Alipore. While they will be able to stay back in the forest, the tigers will remain protected at the centre.
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More importantly, they will have an assured supply of foodwhich will help the injured big cats recover fast. The straying tigers, too, will get used to remaining confined in the jungle,” said Vyas.
The forest department is waiting for funds to commence work on the second phase of the centre. This includes the inner fence that separates the individual enclosures. It has been designed in such a way that won’t allow tigers to cross over to the next enclosure. Neither can they reach the Herobhanga river and swim to villages. There will, however, be waterbodies, both natural and artificial. “Some of the natural waterbodies are being extended to suit the tigers. There are several natural ones inside the area. Food will be provided by the forest department, for we don’t want the injured tigers to hunt. Nor would we like straying tigers to search for easy prey,” said Vyas. The only other tiger rehabilitation centre in the state is located at Khairbari in North Bengal. It is, however, not an open centre and tigers are kept in cages. “We are keen to make sure that the Jharkhali centre does not turn into a zoo for ageing and injured big cats. Neither do we want injured tigers to spend months in a constricted hospital, away from the forest environment. This is an ideal setting that we can have,” added Vyas.
Two squeeze cages and four ordinary ones have been placed at the centre. These will be used for treatment. A team of veterinary surgeons will be posted along with a group of forest department staff who will monitor the big cats. The centre will also have a watch-tower. “We have marked corridors around the centre that will be patrolled by forest guards who will keep a watch,” said Vyas.
To begin with, two tigers will receive shelter at the centre. It can accommodate two more and treat at least four to six big cats simultaneously. The forest department is also planning to shift some of the ageing tigers of Alipore Zoo to the centre. “The zoo has a space problemwhile there will be enough room for 2-3 tigers at Jharkhali
. Depending on the availability of space, we can accommodate a couple of tigers here. But we must consult experts to find out if zoo tigers can acclimatize to the forest conditions,” said a forest department official.
Experts hailed the move. to have a natural rehabilitation centre for tigers.
“It will let the tigers remain in their natural habitat and home environment,” said Pranabesh Sanyal, former director of Sunderban Tiger Reserve. “The authorities should make sure that the rescue centre functions as such and doesn’t turn into a zoo in the jungle,” said Joydeep Kundu, member of the state wildlife board.