Tiger Attacks: Who takes the blame?
Even as extinction stares the tiger in its face, attacks on humans venturing to core areas of tiger reserve continue to be blamed on it. This leaves little chance for survival of the most beautiful of big cats, the Bengal Tigers in the Sunderbans.
AMIRUL NAIYA narrowly escaped from the jaws of death on Thursday evening (24 July), when a tiger swam to his mechanised country boat anchored on Kendodwip in the Sunderbans and grabbed him. But for Anarul, his quick thinking brother, he would have lost his life.
Anarul abandoned the fishing net he was cleaning and caught Anirul’s free arm. The other arm was in the mouth of the Royal Bengal Tiger. The tug-of-war lasted 15 minutes; then the tiger gave up. Amirul was taken to Basanti for treatment and is said to be recovering.
Blame it on the tiger. But was the tiger really at fault? What exactly were the brothers doing in Kendodwip? Kendodwip is in the core area of Sunderban’s Tiger Reserve. Core areas of tiger reserves are by definition strictly forbidden to human beings. Amirul and his brothers were in the middle of it.
They were not only breaking the law; they were invading the habitat of one of the most critically endangered species of the world, the panthera tigris tigris, otherwise known as the Bengal Tiger. A habitat is where tigers are free to roam and hunt. Kendodwip lies in this tiger’s range and he was merely trying to get his meal.
Consider a group of total strangers using your bedroom for the night without as much as by your leave. Unless you are a reincarnation of Gautam Buddha chances are you will turn them out of your house; and you are hardly likely to be blamed for doing so. The tiger, curiously, is blamed for attacking intruders within space, which belongs exclusively to him. Attacks on the likes of Amirul are without exception said to be the tigers’ fault.
Where there is intrusion there is bound to be conflict. This is true of humans as well as animals. The spate of media report on tiger attacks merely proves human invasion of tiger habitat is on the rise. “A tiger attacks villagers, when they venture into the prohibited area,” says Atanu Raha, principal chief conservator of forest, West Bengal while explaining one of the recent attacks by tigers.
Things become difficult for the tiger when the season for collection of honey arrives. People throng the jungles for this lucrative forest produce. “Villagers enter the forests, with or without permits, to collect honey. The recent incident was not a case of a stray tiger, rather here the villagers fell prey to an attack in the jungle itself,” said Col Shakti Banerjee, Honorary Director, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). He was referring to yet another attack by a tiger within his range.
The rapid increase in the population in India has lead to an alarming loss of tiger habitat in the Sunderbans and elsewhere in the country. The problem does not get any easier with illegal felling and poaching thrown in. Yet, political will to provide protection to the animals is seldom visible.
Any attempt to take the first step towards resolving the conflict involves sticky problems of relocation of villages and alternate employment of villagers. Unpopular measures all. So, we hear much, but see little. The tiger after all, cannot vote. People can and do. It will not do to upset sections of voters for a bunch of wild animals.
It is about time the perspective on tiger attacks changes. Today our tigers face extinction. There are 1,140 tigers in India now compared to 40,000 at the end of the 19th century. In the Sunderbans there are less than 300 tigers. Saving the tigers is important to maintain the ecological balance of the region. A loss of balance will result in a domino effect, which if it does occur will go completely out of hand and spell ecological disaster at an unprecedented scale.
A billion people versus a mere 1,100 tigers. What chances do the tigers have? Indeed what chances do these most magnificent and precious of all creatures have! What chances, in turn, does our world have?