Poachers are always on the lookout to kill one of the world’s fiercest animals — the Royal Bengal Tiger and its prime target, the spotted deer (chital harin) –the finest among the antelope in the Sunderbans. But the coronavirus pandemic has reportedly offered extra opportunities for clandestine hunting of the two highly prized species. Different groups of poachers and smugglers are virtually in a competition to kill animals and smuggle out their skin and other body parts always in high demand abroad. Within 20 days of the first month of the year 2021, members of the law enforcement agencies arrested 11 poachers and recovered a tiger, 19 hides of spotted deer and 120 kilograms of venison. There may be more undetected cases.
The majestic Bengal tiger considered the guard of the mangrove forest is an endangered species for reasons extraneous. As many as 38 tigers died in the past 20 years but only six met their natural death, according to the Forest Department. Apart from poaching, tigers fall victim to lynching when they enter human localities around. Storms, tidal waves also account for deaths of both tigers and deer. Then environmental — particularly plastic and oil spillage — pollution also has been responsible for their untimely death. In this context, the clash between human encroachment and survival of the wild animals in the Sunderbans as elsewhere has become acuter. With the shrinkage of their territories, tigers have been compelled to forage outside in human localities. Thus people entering the forest or domestic animals and even human beings in localities are attacked and killed by tigers. Along with encroachment of forest lands, an increasing number of factories and industries built in the vicinity and within a short distance of the forest have posed a threat to the biodiversity of the forest and the flora and fauna will have to bear the consequences of the adverse impact.
There is every reason to think that the Sunderbans has been overexploited and the process continues unabated. This natural shield has protected the country against cyclone and storms time and again. It stood guard against the latest Amphan and took the battering to save a large swathe of the country’s coastal region. But so ungrateful are human beings here that they would not even give the forest enough time to recover from such natural disasters. The forest has depleted perhaps beyond the tipping point. There are reports that even the rivers and canals running around or through the forest are also poisoned for fishing. Overall, humans are doing all they can to turn the mangrove forest’s existence precarious.
All this is a clear indication that the forest’s denizens– tigers and spotted deer in particular — are doubly threatened. Even the beehives — once so profusely found — have become thinner because of environmental pollution and overexploitation. This should not have happened if botanists, environmentalists and other scientists were assigned the responsibility to determine how much exploitation of the forest is too much. Still there is time. Let a commission comprising scientists of multiple disciplines be formed to suggest what needs to be done to save this forest and its flora and fauna. Under the commission, different teams will undertake study on and research in various aspects of the forest.