Sunderbans see spurt in tiger sighting

Better camera key to rise in big cat spotting: Official

By Debraj Mitra in Calcutta
  • Published 4.01.18
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A Royal Bengal tiger

Calcutta: The Sunderbans have been recording more tiger sightings over the past few years, a trend experts attribute to a spurt in tourist flow and the rise in the number of travellers using high-end cameras.

A little more than 1.4 lakh tourists visited the mangrove delta in 2012-13, according to forest department figures.

"Since April 1, 2016, to March 31, 2017, more than 2 lakh tourists had visited the Sunderbans," an official in the department said. Visitors from abroad during the period totalled around 4,000.

The official said the department had recorded 132 tiger sightings in 2017 (till November). The count stood at 181 in 2016 and 208 in 2015.

"These are conservative estimates. We don't keep track of sightings by tourists unless someone volunteers to record a sighting with us. So, the actual count could be much more," the official said.

To record a sighting, one has to submit photographic evidence of it. Earlier, many sightings would go unrecorded because the cameras tourists carried were not powerful enough to capture them.

The scene has changed with more and more people taking to high-end cameras. "Equipped with a bigger sensor and better lens, these cameras can capture a reasonably clear image of a tiger even from a distance. That explains the increase in the recording of tiger sightings in the Sunderbans," the official said.

The maximum number of sightings are recorded between November and February, the dry months when the big cats are forced to roam around more in search of water. As many as 29 sightings - highest in a month - had been reported in February 2015 and November 2016.

Amidst the mad rush for spotting a tiger, Ravi Kant Sinha, the principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden in Bengal, has a word of advice.

"The Sunderbans are not just about tigers. Nature and wildlife lovers must keep in mind that the forests are also home to Saltwater Crocodiles (the largest of all reptiles), Irrawaddy Dolphins and 200 species of birds," Sinha said.

Sighting a tiger in the Sunderbans is more about luck. One stands a better chance of spotting a Royal Bengal at Ranthambore (Rajasthan) or Bandavgarh (Madhya Pradesh ), where guided tours are organised.

Clicks by camera traps in the Sunderbans have indicated a rise in the tiger population. The traps had clicked 84 adult tigers over the past few months. A study in 2014 by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife Institute of India had pegged the tiger count at 76.