The enigma of Sundarbans tiger

Posted on
26 February 2010
By Ameen Ahmed

Closing up to Sundarbans mammals
There are few enigmas in the wild that catch one’s attention as much as the tiger in Sundarbans. Every visitor to Sundarbans Tiger Reserve is mesmerised by the panoramas that widen and open up every passing minute and greet one as she or he drifts away from mainland India. And the journey through the seemingly unending maze of water courses clothed by the world’s largest mangrove forests, and there are miles and miles of these, is all but tiring. If at all, this journey refreshes one’s mind and spirit.

While there are quite a few protected areas in India that allow mammals to be observed from close quarters, Sundarbans is certainly not on that list. The mangroves are evergreen. The trees are short, have a dense canopy, grow very close to each other and hence visibility is poor. The best bet to see wildlife here is to sail through the water courses, expecting the animals to emerge out of the forests on the shore. But, crossing the islands one after other, on the luckiest of days, all one might end up seeing is a troop or two of rhesus macacques; a herd of chital deer; a solitary, or if lucky, a saunder of wild boars; and sometimes may be the estaurine crocodiles. This is true, even during the wildlife friendly early morning and late evening hours coinciding with low tide.

Tiger sighting and Sundarbans

And how about sighting the tiger here? Anurag Danda, has been working with WWF-India for over five years now. And the number of times he has seen a tiger here? “Zero” was his answer, after I repeated the question many times and he replied each time with a canyon-deep frown on his forehead.

27 January 2010 was just another day at work for Chiranjib, a Project Officer with WWF-India’s Sundarbans team, as he was sailing in a rented boat near Phiri Khali in the buffer zone of Sundarbans Tiger Reserve. The sun was high up and it was near noon. Suddenly, the people in the boat looked at something that they had never seen before. A tiger was swimming calmly, a few feet away. “The moment it saw us, it stopped swimming. And it did so for about 2 minutes. Then, it turned away, as if it could care less, swimming towards a nearby island,” said Chiranjib. “It was swimming fast, much faster than I have seen any human swim. It swam for a distance of about 200 metres to reach the shore,” he added.

Chiranjib didn’t miss this opportunity to take a few pictures of the beautiful cat in front of him. After all, few people get a chance to watch a wild tiger in Sundarbans forests, let alone photographing it. He knew this. And, he was making every use of the proverbial sunshine to make ‘hay’ on this day.

Click here to see more images from Sundarbans…


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