Watch Your Back in the Mangrove Forest
Bengal Tiger -original photo by: Paul MannixMosquitoes are not the only ones that appear to consider humans a main protein source; Tigers in the Sunderbans Preserve
in West Bengal, India, also find them to be easy prey. Some report that close to 300 people have perished in recent years as a result of these cats.
The Sunderban Preserve expands 1000 miles along the Bay of Bengal. In this ecosystem, twice a day the tide rises and salty sea water floods the islands, sandbars, and forests. During high tide, the mangrove trees sit halfway under water, providing homes for fish and other animals.
One remarkable member of this web of wet life is the endangered Bengal Tiger. Some sources state that 500 to 600 tigers find a home in the region, making it the most densely populated tiger habitat on the planet. These tigers manage to live half on land and half in the water, looking for every kind of food source opportunity on land and sea. One such opportunity is humans in boats. As the local people go out in search of fish, wood and honey, they fall prey to these incredible swimmers. Tigers are said to approach a boat or dock so stealthily that they can nab a human lunch without anyone else even hearing and can swim after a boat like a dog runs after a car.
The government and various organizations have issued masks to the villagers. These masks are worn on the back of the head in an attempt to deter a predator that tends to attack from behind. Tigers seem to have learned their way around this and go for a side attack.
Why are these tigers man-eaters? There are many theories and not much research.
The villagers themselves also have a variety of theories on the subject, but most agree that these tigers are great and spiritual beings and deserve to be revered. They worship a tiger god called Daskin Ray and a forest goddess called Bonobibi. They celebrate these gods and pray to them before going out into the forest. They believe the tiger is a protector of the forest, guarding the other plants and animals. They believe that without these man-eating beings, their forest would suffer from increased illegal gathering and poaching and that tigers are a crucial part of the web of life and their lives.
Are there other reasons these tigers prey on humans? What do you think?
The Oakland Zoo works with an organization called Saving Wild Tigers (www.savingwildtigers.org). Our donations go to reparations and scholarships to families that have lost a member to a tiger attack. They feel this offering keeps families and community members in good standing with the tigers, which results in successful conservation of these cats.
Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at The Oakland Zoo.