In his 80 years, Kanai Das hadn’t seen a tiger until Monday morning, when he woke up next to a seven-foot cat resting in his hut. It was in the wee hours when a tigress strayed into the village injuring a woman and killing several goats and livestock.
Villagers cornered the animal in Mr. Das’s hut and contacted officials of the Forest Department.
“The tigress will be released in the core area of the reserve after a thorough examination within the next couple of days,” Director, Sunderban Biosphere Reserve, Pradeep Vyas, told The Hindu.
“While some people of my village have seen tigers come across from the thickets of the forest, there have never been attacks in the heart of the village,” said Mr. Das, who has lived all his life in the village on the fringes of the mangrove forests.
“I was sleeping when I heard the villagers screaming and woke up to find the tiger right next to me. I was in complete shock, but sprang out of the hut before she could attack.”
While Mr. Das escaped unhurt, Tarulata Mondal will always carry the scars of her encounter with the tigress. Earlier in the morning, she was feeding the chicken when she was suddenly attacked. Her face and arms were ripped by the animal’s claws. Ms. Mondal was lucky to have survived the attack. She was rushed to a hospital at Gosaba.
“Living in the Sunderbans means that one must be prepared for [a time] when the tiger may come, but in the last few years the frequency of such visits and the extent to which they stray into the villages has increased,” said Shankar Munda, who has seen tigers when he goes fishing in brooks in the forest area.
Just about a year ago, the same village had experienced an instance of straying, he added.
Enraged by the frequency of such incidents, a large number of residents from nearby villages came to the village to hold talks with forest officials, before allowing them to tranquillise and take away the tiger.
“In the Sunderbans, the fishermen and honey-gatherers have always been threatened by tiger attacks. But now, even those who do not venture into the forest are at threat,” Mr. Munda said.
While continuous habitat destruction, shrinking prey base and a tendency to stray in the village areas during monsoon months are often cited as reasons for tigers straying, opinion is divided on the impact of cyclone Aila on such incidents.
State’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Atanu Raha said that some of the places where these attacks occurred after the cyclone were areas which witnessed the most damage during the cyclone.