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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Royal Bengal Tigers in Sunderbans - drinking saline water

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The tigers of Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve have been reported to eat unusual food and drink unusual water for about more than a decade. On July 17, 2009 finding of a poisonous snake inside the stomach of a Sunderbans tiger has raised many questions. Though earlier, these tigers were reported of eating crabs, and fish etc., the finding of grass hoppers in their stomachs again lays stress on the same unanswered questions.

A news report in The Hindu (Friday, August 21, 2009, page 20) reads –
“Living in the intertidal habitat among marshy thickets, having become accustomed to the saline water, and but often without the trademark element of surprise, the Royal Bengal Tiger of the Sunderbans may have evolved differently from its brethren in peninsular India, according to experts here.” The reporter Ananya Dutta, reporting the case has kept herself off by quoting the experts as it most often remains the case with news reporters.

Is it authentic to say, even for an expert that Tigers of Sunderbans may have evolved differently from their brethren … and that’s why they are drinking saline water, eating poisonous snakes, grasshoppers, crabs, fish and what not? Experts say and the reporter writes – and the Journalism gets completed. How can a journalist leave an expert after receiving a handful of baseless words?

It is very simple to understand that thirsty tigers have no way except drinking the saline water as there is scarcity of fresh water since long. They were reportedly bound to eat crabs and fish etc. some decades ago as they had to face the scarcity of food as they are still facing. Now that they are unable to catch sufficient number of crabs and fish, they are bound to eat what they can catch for it- may it be a snake, a lizard, a rat or a cat. It is baseless to say that the tigers did not eat poisonous snakes earlier. It means they used to eat non- poisonous snakes most often. How do they distinguish between a poisonous and a non- poisonous snake, I think, may still be a matter of research. Let it be the topic of research for any one of the officers of the Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve. Since they can trace a new evolutionary line, they can research out anything.

The reporter has nicely quoted Pranabesh Sanyal revealing the fact that “… few fresh water ponds that were created (?) are not sufficient to support this large a population….In any case there were no fresh water ponds before 1977, so what else could the tigers drink then?” Yes, the whole story presents a picture of gross negligence of the animals of the Biosphere Reserve which is continued for decades. The tigers there have been put into distress since long for fresh water and food that’s why they are bound to adopt these dangerous habits. In real sense, it can not be regarded as adaptation nor can it be linked to some type of genetics. Are tigers there adapting to the habit of grass eating? How did grasshoppers enter into their intestines? So far we could only know that “tigers don’t eat grass”. It is again a matter of research and the responsibility of this research too may be laid down on any one officer- scientist of the – reserve. Let the people come forward to save our wildlife in the peoples’ country.