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Sunderbans: World Wildlife Fund for Nature asked to find out the reason for tigers straying into villages

Footage from trap cameras installed as part of the tiger census can be helpful, say experts

Debraj Mitra | Published 13.01.22, 07:12 PM
The tiger trapped on Wednesday.

The tiger trapped on Wednesday.

Picture courtesy: Bengal forest department

A tiger that had strayed into a village on the fringes of the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve was captured early on Wednesday, said forest officials.

The tiger, that had killed livestock at Mathurakhand village in Gosaba’s Bali Island, was captured by a trap cage. It was later taken to a rescue centre in Jharkhali for medical examination.


Since December, at least four tigers in the mangrove delta have strayed into different human habitats. The rise in straying incidents has prompted the forest department to approach the WWF to undertake a study to find out the reasons for the same.

Several serving and retired forest officials and wildlife experts pointed to several reasons that could lead to tigers straying out of the forests into villages. The presence of too many tigers in one forest, infighting in the “breeding season” and increased human interference are some of them.

“We have asked WWF to conduct the study. There could be multiple reasons but all of them are conjectures at the moment. Only a detailed study would ascertain the reason,” said Debal Ray, chief wildlife warden of Bengal.

Anurag Danda, director, Sunderbans programme, WWF, said footage from trap cameras installed as part of the tiger census would be crucial in their study.

“We will start with trying to identify each animal that strayed into villages. If we can locate the area they came from, we will be able to find why they came,” he said.

On the basis of conversations with forest officials and wildlife experts, The Telegraph lists some of the possible reasons for the straying of tigers.

Too many?

The presence of too many tigers in one forest can lead to a struggle for the limited prey base and the “weaker” tigers may be forced to leave the area, said a section of foresters and wildlife experts.

According to the last census in 2021, Sunderbans had 96 tigers. Foresters had then said the increase in prey base had contributed to the rising numbers.

A retired forest official said “estimating” the capacity of a tiger reserve was fallacious. “At one point of time, it was estimated that Panna Tiger Reserve would not be able to accommodate more than 15 tigers. Now, it has over 50,” he said.

Mating game

A senior forest official said winter was the “breeding season” of tigers and straying was not uncommon in that period.

“Tigers are solitary animals and fiercely territorial. But during the mating season, the search for a partner takes them to other territories, leading to conflicts with other tigers. The sub-dominant males and non-receptive females are often driven out of their territories,” said the official

But a senior researcher said tigers mated throughout the year. “It is not correct to say winter is the breeding season for tigers. Tigers can mate throughout the year,” said Yadvendradev Jhala, a senior scientist at the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India.


Multiple forest officials said the “human pressure” on the forest had increased manifold during the past couple of years. More and more people who have lost their livelihood are turning to the forest to catch fish and crab. They are routinely “breaching” the nylon net fencing along the forest, said foresters.

Close to 30 people have been killed in tiger attacks in the past 15 months in the Sunderbans, according to the forest department.

“We do not have enough money to repair the breaches immediately. If 2020-21 was bad in terms of finance, 2021-22 is worse. Setting up new nets involve men, boats and fuel costs,” said a forest official who requested anonymity.

Last updated on 13.01.22, 07:12 PM

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