Shortage of prey forces tigers to stray, feel experts

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Shortage of prey forces tigers to stray, feel experts

Press Trust of India Posted: Sep 07, 2009 at 0300 hrs

Kolkata: Increasing incidents of tigers intruding human habitats around the Sunderban sanctuary have raised concerns among the forest officials, even as animal activists blame imbalance of the eco-system caused by shortage of prey for such incursions.

Though 21 incidents of intrusion recorded this year, authorities ruled out the dwindling prey base as the reason and claimed that this was a natural phenomenon.

The big cats were emerging from forests not because of lack of prey. If there was a shortage of deer and wild boar, this would have been reflected in their health, Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (STR) Field Director Subrat Mukherjee told PTI.

He said that such incidents become of much concerns when highlighted by the media.

“Now, whenever a tiger strays, it is reported in the media which used to be not done in the past,” he said.

However, the authorities have decided to increase the height of nylon net fencing around villages to prevent intrusion by tigers, he said.

Director of Sunderban biosphere reserve N C Bahuguna also said that straying of tigers was a natural phenomenon but added that lack of fresh water in the forests after Cyclone Aila might be a reason for increase in such incidents.

“Tigers in the Sunderbans drink saline water, but at times they also need sweet water,” he said.

Activists working for the protection of wild animals, however, expressed doubt about the number of deer and wild boar in the mangroves.

It is certain that the prey base has dwindled although it might not be the only reason for big cats entering human habitation, said Raja Chatterjee, secretary of “The Junglees”.

Tigers also mark their own territory, but sometimes they miss direction and enter habitated areas, he said. Ajanta Dey of another NGO — Nature, Environment and Wildlife Society — said at one point of time the authorities had planned to release deer and wild boar in the Sunderbans, but the plan is yet to be implemented.

“We don’t know what the situation is after Aila. There should be a proper study,” she said. According to the 2006 census, Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, accounted for 274 tigers.

Bahuguna said that a fresh census would be conducted this year in which various methods including camera traps would be used.

The activists also fear that the big cats wandering out of the forest may be targeted by poachers. “It is possible that tigers straying into villages might be the target of poaching,’ Dey said.

But, the officials ruled out the possibility, saying much awareness had been created among the villagers near Sunderbans. “Man-animal conflict might, however, lead to revenge killing,” Mukherjee said.

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