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Tiger found dead in the Sundarbans

20 July 2009

A tiger was found dead on Friday, 17 July 2009, at Netidhopani in the Sundarbans. Due to a state-wide strike, the post mortem was carried out yesterday (18 July). The Sunderban Tiger Reserve authorities requested Col. Shakti Banerjee, Honorary Director of WPSI, and a representative of WWF-India to be present at the post mortem, in accordance with the guidelines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority. The approximately 12-year-old tiger had no external injuries. It appeared to have succumbed to an infection, as the veterinary officer found necrotic focci in the heart and lungs and enlarged other body parts. Interestingly, parts of king corba, a monocled cobra and a half-digested crab were found in its digestive system. The exact cause of death will be known after forensic tests have been completed.

This sad news follows four remarkable tiger conservation success stories in the Sunderbans, since Cyclone Aila devastated the area on 25th May this year.

Tiger rescue operations since Cyclone Aila

The day after the cyclone, a tiger that had been swept along by strong currents took refuge in a house in Jamespur. Since the area was still chest-high in water, the Forest Department had to cut a hole in the roof of the house to tranquilise the tiger. It was caged, removed from the village, checked for any injuries, and released in the jungle the following day. Three deer were also rescued by the department on the same day. On the night of 30th June, a young tigress strayed onto an inhabited island at Adivasi para, on the eastern edge of Sundarban tiger reserve. It was trapped, tranquilised and released on 3rd July. On the night of 2nd July, another young tigress entered Lahiripur village on Satjelia island. It was successfully trapped the next night and released on 5th July, A fourth tiger strayed into Chargheri village on the night of 6th July, and was trapped the following night and released. The tiger had some scratch marks on its front legs, possibly due to a territorial fight. The Forest Department fitted the last three tigers with ear-tags and micro-chips on their tails, and gave all the tigers a health check before they were released.

Listing these four incidents makes it sound all too easy. But that is far from the truth. These are delicate operations, not only in the trapping, tranquilising and handling of the tigers, but also because of other factors such as crowd control (the capture sites have to be cordoned off with nets, etc.) and the lack of even basic facilities in the aftermath of the cyclone. Remarkably, nobody was injured during any of these operations, and in all four cases the Field Director of the tiger reserve, Mr Subrata Mukerjee, was present during the tranquilisation and release of the tigers. The last three tigers were tranquilised by Mr Subrata Palchoudhury of the West Bengal Forest Department. A WPSI Field Officer was present at two of the rescue operations.

The NGOs and individuals, including WPSI, who have been carrying out relief efforts in the Sundarbans since Cyclone Aila have greatly appreciated the unstinting efforts of the West Bengal Forest Department. The Sundarban Tiger Reserve authorities and the Forest Officers of 24 Parganas (S) went into the field immediately after the cyclone struck, actively assisting the local people at that terrible time. Fortunately there was little damage to the mangrove forests, but the Forest Department has been a pillar of strength to both the wildlife and the local people ever since.




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