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Alarm over rise in tiger net breach in Sunderbans

Funds crunch delays repairs: Officials

Debraj Mitra | Published 27.08.22, 08:36 AM
Forest guards repair a torn net inside the Ajmalmari forest in the Sunderbans on August 6

Forest guards repair a torn net inside the Ajmalmari forest in the Sunderbans on August 6

Telegraph picture

Breaches in nylon nets that mark the boundaries of the forests in the Sunderbans are increasing every day, adding fodder to the human-wild conflict. 

While some of the breaches have been attributed to natural causes, many others are human-made, said forest officials.

A large number of people living in villages on the fringes of the forests are yet to find a steady alternative income following the loss of livelihood triggered by the pandemic. Such people are forced to look towards the forests for a livelihood.

On unlicensed boats, they often venture deep into the forests in search of fish and crab.

In many cases, they have to breach the nylon nets to make their way into a creek or a river.

In doing so, they become more vulnerable to tiger attacks, said foresters.

In the South 24-Parganas forest division, the nylon net fencing spans 62km, said an official of the division. 

“Around half the total length is damaged and needs immediate repair. But we do not have enough resources. There is a paucity of funds because of the pandemic. Earlier, private companies had funded some of the projects as part of their CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes,” said the official. 

The last time the nets were fixed was in late 2021. Most tiger-straying incidents usually happen in the winter, said foresters. Sources in the forest department said multiple letters had been sent to the headquarters.

“An IT services company has shown interest in funding the project. But there has been no headway till now,” the official said. 

There is an urgent need to extend the fencing by another 12km to cover islands which were earlier not known for tiger straying incidents.

But keeping the scarcity of funds in mind, the officials of the division are focussing on mending the existing boundaries.

The Indian Sunderbans is split between the tiger reserve and the South 24-Parganas division. The tiger habitat in the South 24-Parganas division covers the Matla, Raidighi and Ramganga ranges, measuring around 1,100sq km.

Earlier this month, a patrol team found a yawning gap in a net inside the Ajmalmari forest in Raidighi.

In February, a tiger from the Ajmalmari forest had strayed into a village, before being trapped in a cage.

On Tuesday morning, a 50-year-old fisherman was dragged away by a tiger in Jhilla II forest compartment in the tiger reserve.

“The nets are not always damaged by humans. With time, saline water weaken the bamboo poles that support the nets. Besides, the nets become brittle with time. But since 2020, the cases of human breaches have been on the rise,” said Milan Kumar Mondal, divisional forest officer of South 24-Parganas.

The STR has a net fencing that spans 106km. 

“We inspect the nets every day. Inspection and repair is a continuous process. But even then, it is impossible to have eyes everywhere,” said Tapas Das, director of the STR.

The Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (STR), spread across 2,500sqkm, comprises the Sunderbans National Park (East and West), marked as the core area, and the Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary and the Basirhat Range, which form the buffer zones.

Last updated on 27.08.22, 08:36 AM
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