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Introduction 

Sundarbans in West Bengal is the estuarine phase of the Ganges as well as Brahmaputra river systems. This littoral forest is the only ecological habitat of the tiger of its kind not only in India but also in the world except in Bangladesh. The typical littoral forests of Sundarbans comprises of a host of trees species adopted to the peculiar estuarine condition of high salinity, lack of soil erosion and daily inundation by high tides. The tidal forms and the mangrove vegetation in Sundarban are responsible for dynamic eco-system vigorous nutrient cycling both terrestrial and aquatic. The whole eco-system is sensitive to changes in salinity and the continuous cycle of erosion and deposition is affecting the plant communities giving rise to dynamic floristic changes. The plant communities are continuously adjusting to the new conditions.

Sundarbans Tiger Reserve provides characteristic type of habitat suitable for animals inhabiting vast tidal swamp area. Because of their intimate association with the estuarine environment, sizeable portion of aquatic and semi-aquatic animal communities are inter-related with the animals inhabiting the land areas. The uniqueness of the habitat is said to have contributed to certain behavioral trends, which are characteristic of Sundarbans tigers only. It is considered that man-eating propensity of tiger in this area is hereditarily acquired over a period of generations in the process of consumption of saline water.

Cheetal, wild boar, rhesus macaque are the main prey species of tiger. Aquatic animals like the crabs and fishes are also eaten by Sundarban tiger which occupies the pinnacle of both terrestrial as well as aquatic food-web.

Sundarbans mangrove is the home of a number of endangered and globally threatened species. The Bengal Tiger and the fishing cat are getting effective protection here. The creeks of Sundarbans form the home of Estuarine Crocodile, Salvator Lizard (Water Monitor), River Terrapin and Horse Shoe or King Crab. This area serves as the nesting ground for endangered marine turtles like Olive Ridley, Green Turtle and Hawk's Bill Turtles. The aquatic endangered mammals like Genetic Dolphins thrive within mangrove creeks close to sea. Number of heronries form here during monsoon as well as during winter. It is home for Trans-Himalayan migratory birds.

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Conservation History 

The Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, created in 1973, was the part of the then 24-Pargans Division. Subsequently the area comprising of the present tiger reserve was constituted as Reserve Forest in 1978. The total area of the Sunderbans is 9630 sq. km. out of which 4264 sq. km. bears mangrove forest. The area of the Reserve is 2585 sq. km. covering land area of 1600 sq. km. and water body over 985 sq. km.

Within this area 1330.12 sq. km. is designated as core area, which was subsequently declared as Sundarban National Park in 1984. An area of 124.40 sq. km. within the core area is preserved as primitive zone to act as gene pool.

Within the buffer zone, Sajnekhali Wildlife sanctuary was created in 1976 covering an area of 362.335 sq. km. Considering the importance of the biogeographic region of Bengalian River Forests and its unique biodiversity the National Park area of the Reserve was included in the list of World Heritage Sites in 1985. Whole Sundarbans area was declared as Biosphere Reserve in 1989.

Census  

Year
Species
Population



1989
  Deer
  30886
1992
  Tiger
   
  251
1993
  Deer
  Wild boar
  Rhesus macaque
  Water Monitor
  30978
  11869
  37691
  10272
1995
  Tiger
  242
1997
  Tiger
  256-270

 

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Forest Types

Tidal swamp forests,Saline water type mixed forests ,brackish water type mixed forests palm swamp type

Major Flora

There are 64 plant species in Sundarbans and they have the capacity to withstand estuarine conditions and saline inundation on account of tidal effects.

Main Species

Excaecaria sp., Heritiera sp., Ceriops sp., Phoenix sp., Sonneratia sp., Avicennia sp., Rhizophora sp., Xylocarpus sp., Bruguiera sp. etc.

Major Fauna

Main Species

Tiger, fishing cat, chital, wildboar, water monitor, estuarine crocodile.

Endanger Species

Tiger, Estuarian Crocodile, River Terrapin (Batagur baska), Olive Ridlay Turtle, Gangetic Dolphin, Ground Turtle, Hawks Bill Turtle, King Crabs (Horse shoe)

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Management   

Practices, Achievements and Shortfalls

The Reserve has received effective protection under Project Tiger since its creation. The core area is free from all human disturbances like fishing, collection of wood, honey and other forest produces while in buffer fishing, honey collection and wood cutting are permitted to a limited extent. Protection against poaching and theft of forest produce has been ensured through intensive patrolling by staff in motorboats and launches. The offices and camps are located at strategic points to keep a watch over the area. There exists an effective communication network for protection. Furthermore, the staff is well armed.

Intensive management takes care of the maintenance and improvement of the habitat through eco-conservation, eco-development, education, training and research. Mud-flats on the periphery of the reserve are artificially regenerated with mangrove plants to meet local fuel wood demand and reduce the pressure on buffer. Non-mangrove plantations are also raised along roads and embankments of the fringe area to cater the need of the fringe people.

Soil conservation is taken up to stabilize the vulnerable sites. To facilitate the availability of sweet water for animals, ponds have been dug at several places in the forest.

The other main activity is controlling man-eating by tigers which existed here since time immemorial and the number of casualties have been reduced from more than 40 to less than 10 per year. This has become possible due to strict control over the movement of the people inside the tiger reserve, alternative income generation and awareness building among people. Use of human-masks, electric human dummies etc. are believed to have also contributed in controlling man-eating by tigers. The straying of tigers into the adjoining villages is a serious problem in the area. Measures like erection of branches of genwa, nylon net fencing at forest side and solar illumination at village side at night have however, helped to reduce the incidents of tiger straying. For rescuing the strayed tiger, method of tranquilization using dart gun is also applied where driving of the tiger to the nearby forest is not possible. The youth of the villages have also been imparted training to enable them to play appropriate role in controlling the straying of the tigers into the habitation.

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Special Projects    

The Reserve has successfully launched a special programme to conserve the highly endangered Olive Ridley Turtles. Hatching of Olive Ridley Turtles and River Terrapin is done at Sajnekhali to replenish their population.

Eco-development

Co-operation of fringe people in the conservation of the tiger habitat, as it could gradually be felt, has been possible through constant motivation and awareness building of the people as well as increased public liaison and their involvement in the planning process for implementation of eco-development programme. Participatory Management has already been introduced in Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and 10 Forest Protection Committees and 14 Eco-development Committees have been formed in the fringe of Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and the response is positive.

In Sundarbans the following eco-development activities have been undertaken.

1. Excavation of rain water irrigation channel to increase agricultural production.

2. Provision of pisciculture ponds in the buffer area to be managed by village co-operative for prawns and sweet water fish. This will help in income generation.

3. Provision of Solar lights in the villages on the periphery both for lighting as well as to scare away tiger from straying into the villages.

4. Provision of smokeless chullahs for optimization of fuel consumption.

5. Raising mangrove plantations on the periphery to meet local fuel wood demand

6. Provision of medical care facilities to the villagers through collaborative efforts of the Management and NGOs

Village Forest Protection Committees

Ten Village Forest Protection Committees have been formed by the management and villagers.

Education and Awareness

Mangrove eco-system is very fragile and people's sustenance in the area, again, mainly depends on the maintenance and sustainable use of the eco-system. At the same time this eco-system is the most productive eco-system on the planet guiding the benefit of the nutrient cycling of both terrestrial as well as marine system. Therefore, understanding of the system and its importance is very useful to the people and awareness building among the people around the mangrove forest is necessary. Educating people around the Reserve about the importance of conservation of mangrove eco-system and its natural resources as well as launching of programme of training and demonstration of improvised technology for bringing socio-economic development in the region will certainly help in the conservation of this unique ecosystem. Thus, seminars, workshops, awareness camps etc are organised frequently in the vicinity of Reserve. Interpretation trips are also arranged for school students, villagers, Panchayat members and women. Audio-visual equipment is being used to highlight the need of conservation of nature and eco-system. Short term training course about the mangrove eco-system are conducted for the registered local tourist guides, which has generated local interest and employment. The Mangrove Interpretation Centre established at Sajnekhali will play a great role in awareness building and orientation of the people and tourist towards the paramount importance of conservation of nature in general and the mangrove eco-systems in particular.

Protection Squads / Patrolling

Anti-poaching camps are manned by 2-3 knowledgeable labourers and supervised by concerned beat guard/Forester/Range officer.

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Constraints   

There is no denying the fact that the mangrove zone because of its difficult geographic situation and hostile terrain criss-crossed by a network of turbulent streams and having long stretch of international border with Bangladesh and fishing arena in the sea for thousands of trawlers and mechanised boats is vulnerable to various threats like poaching of animals and pilferage of woods. Compared to the size of this protected area and the proportion of problems which is encountered here the logistic support in terms of staff strength, infrastructure facilities and availability of fund is inadequate.

Human population

There is no village inside the Reserve.

Outside the Tiger Reserve there are more than 1000 villages within Sundarbans area out of which around 100 villages are very close to STR at the north and north-west fringe of the Reserve.

Livestock population

There is no livestock in the Reserve.

Encroachment

There is no encroachment within the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve area. An attempt for encroachment was made in 1978 in the Jhila Block (Marichjhapadi) by the refugees from Bangladesh but the attempt was thwarted and the area was made free from encroachers.

Grazing

As the mangrove forest of Sundarbans Tiger Reserve is bounded all through its periphery by streams and creeks, there is no problem of cattle grazing within the reserve.

Fire

Fire does not occur.

Poaching of fauna and flora

The core area of the Reserve is free from all biotic interference though attempts of fishing are a disturbance.
Killing of Tigers Since 1990

Date of Death
Remarks
12.08.90
At Dayapur, killed by villagers
23.01.93
Electrocution
05.01.94
Detected by private launch floating in Sudhanyakali
26.09.94
Dead tiger found in a paddy field at Hamnagar (Poisioning)
05.12.94
Found in paddy field at Jamespur
03.08.95
Killed by villagers near Central Satjelia School at Luxbagan


Diseases

There has been no incidence of epidemic

Control of the Buffer

Control of buffer is with the management of the Reserve.

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Conflicts  

 
Man-Animal

Man-eating propensity of Sundarban tiger has been a great problem. This happens with either attack on villagers entering the forest or by tiger straying into the habitation. Numerous steps taken by the management has mitigated this problem to a large extent.

Man-Forest

Dire poverty urges the people of Sundarbans to frequent the forest in search of livelihood. Some of them take the risk of cyclone for fishing and other enter the forest to collect honey and fuel wood. The vulnerable mangrove eco-system is under stress due to such interference.

Wild Animal - Forest

Total protection of vegetation in the core area without any manipulation of crop density appears not to create ideal habitat condition for the tiger and its prey animals

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