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Bravery awards for rescuing tigers in Sunderbans

The ceremony brought to the fore the daunting challenges awaiting foresters in tranquilising a big cat in the hostile mangrove delta

Debraj Mitra | Published 09.02.22, 09:15 AM
The tiger that had strayed into Kultali after its release

The tiger that had strayed into Kultali after its release

A dozen people got ‘bravery awards’ on Monday for their role in rescuing tigers that had strayed into villages in the Sunderbans in recent times.

At Aranya Bhavan, the ceremony brought to the fore the daunting challenges awaiting foresters in tranquilising a big cat in the hostile mangrove delta.

On a misty December 28 morning, a team of foresters led by Anurag Chowdhury, additional divisional forest officer of South 24-Parganas, stood literally a swipe away from a full-grown male tiger inside a mangrove forest in Kultali.

The close proximity of humans startled the animal. At the same time, water canons targeted the big cat. Flummoxed, it moved enough for the gunman to take a shot from a temporary watchtower.  A few seconds later, the tiger was sedated.

On Monday, Chowdhury was among the recipients of the bravery awards.

Debal Ray, chief wildlife warden of Bengal, called the Kultali rescue a “once in a lifetime operation”.

“The foresters risked their lives but ensured the operation was successful. Chowdhury and his team members were literally one fatal blow away from the big cat,” he said.

The big cat, which is suspected to have come from Dhulibhasani forest, crossed the Matla river and took shelter in the dense mangrove cover on the river bed. The animal had evaded traps and cameras for five days, foresters said.

The location made the tiger almost invisible to the human eye. Drones showed the big cat hiding. But it was impossible to dart the tiger from the watchtower because it did not move from behind the thick cover.

The foresters used everything from crackers to chilli powder to trigger a movement but the efforts drew a blank, triggering panic among villagers.

The terrain of the forests in the mangrove delta makes the job so challenging, said foresters and wildlife experts.

“Accessing the tiger is much more difficult in the Sunderbans. Visibility is the main challenge in a tranquilising mission. Carrying equipment to the area is also a big challenge because of the slush,” said Tapas Das, field director of the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve.

Between December and January, five tigers strayed into human habitats in the mangrove delta. Three of them had to be tranquilised and two were captured in trap cages. No human casualties were reported.

In total, 24 people were nominated for the awards. Twelve of them received the recognition at the Aranya Bhavan on Monday, in the presence of forest minister Jyotipriya Mallick and others.

The awardees included forest department employees and Anil Mistry, who runs an NGO that helps in rescue missions.

There were three categories — entailing cash awards of Rs 50,000, Rs 25,000 and Rs 5,000.

Last updated on 09.02.22, 09:15 AM
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