Debate on Aila impact

Debate on Aila impact

Sabyasachi Roy

SUNDERBANS, 8. JUNE: While Aila had snatched away the livelihood of thousands of people living in the Sunderbans, there is a debate as to whether it has harmed the animal populace.

Following the cyclone, the animals of the Sunderbans ~ including tigers and deer ~ have been found in various sanctuaries and forests within the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve. Some wildlife experts say that the deer and reptiles, particularly the snakes, are having difficulties in their food habits.

These experts feel that the deer, being the most sensitive animal among those found in the Sunderbans, are the worst sufferers. As a major portion of the forest land remained inundated for a few days, the grassland and even the leaves of the trees that were underwater have been destroyed, posing a threat to the food-stock of the deer. The deer either graze on Dhani-Ghash (Porterasis Coarctata) or taste the leaves of mangroves like Kaora (Sonneratia Aapetala) and Baen (Avicennia Officinalis).

Snakes have also suffered a lot as they have lost their shelters, says this group of experts. The snakes will also suffer a crisis in their food stock as a huge number of rats have been killed during Aila. “The snakes in Sunderbans feed on frogs and snails – other than rats, which are their favourite food,” said Mr Pranabesh Sanyal, former field director of the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve.

Experts also feel that there could be a crisis of sweet water in the jungles as most of the sweet water ponds excavated in the tiger reserve have been inundated with saline water. “The tigers and deer refuse to take water from the pond after licking it. This was reported from Netidhopani Tiger Camp, Doibaki beat office, Suduanyakhali beat office and other areas,” said an environmentalist.

Senior officials of the state forest department, however, say the damage caused to the animal populace was being overestimated. They say that the deer in the Sunderbans love to live in inundated areas and would not have any difficulty adapting to the present situation. Snakes too, they say, are very good swimmers and can climb up trees, so they will not have any problem obtaining shelter during this period. Officials added that there were no records that the animals of the Sunderbans only drinking sweet water. The sweet water ponds were dug after the tiger reserve was set up there, but animals used to live there years before that.

Mr Subrata Mukherjee, field director of Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, said Aila did not have a major impact on flora and fauna. “Studies could not be made on its effect on micro flora and fauna. Such a study must rely on long-term research under scientific institutions.
As micro flora and fauna occupies an important niche in the food chain of the Sunderbans, in which tigers ~ with other co-predators like jungle cats and fishing cats ~ are at the top, study is urgently required to assess the damage and its effect on the ecosystem as a whole,” said Mr Mukherjee.


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