Sunderban Tigers


                     Man-eating tigers rule in vast Indian mangrove
                     Killer cats have hunted people for        [tiger]

                     August 10, 1996
                     Web posted at: 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT)

                     SUNDARBANS TIGER RESERVE, India (AP) -- The sun
                     was just beginning to set over Sundarbans, India's
                     vast mangrove swamp, when the four woodcutters
                     began winding up a day's work.

                     Everything had gone better than expected. Forest
                     guards hadn't spotted them working illegally on
                     two muddy islands. And they hadn't encountered any
                     of the crocodiles, poisonous snakes, sharks and
                     tigers that roam the tidal delta.

                     It was low tide, and the men began wading across
                     the channel between the two densely wooded
                     islands, collecting fish they had caught in nets
                     for dinner.

                     They joked with Bablu, their leader, as they put
                     the fish in the pot he was carrying.

                     Suddenly, a flame-colored Royal Bengal tiger
                     leaped out of the forest. Although some experts
                     believe tigers strike only from the rear of their
                     prey, it attacked Bablu from the front, grabbing
                     his shoulders with its paws and trying to bite his

                     Bablu and another man fainted, but the other two
                     drove off the tiger by hitting it with sticks.

                     Moments later, as the men desperately pulled Bablu
                     toward their boat by his feet, the tiger returned,
                     grabbed Bablu by the neck and dragged him away as
                     the others fled to their village outside the
                     Sundarbans reserve.

                     Elsewhere, tigers seldom kill people      [India]
                     unless they are defending their food or
                     cubs, or recovering from wounds inflicted by a

                     But in Sundarbans, tigers behave like no others in
                     the world. They have hunted people for centuries,
                     says Sy Montgomery, an American who has studied
                     the region for years and recently published a book
                     about it called "Spell of the Tiger."

                     Scientists don't know why, she says. "They are a

                     "Nature does not obey the rules here," Montgomery
                     says in her book. "Fish climb trees; the animals
                     drink salt water; the roots of trees grow up
                     toward the sky instead of down to the earth. And
                     here, the tigers do not obey the same rules by
                     which tigers elsewhere govern their lives."

                     Each year, dozens of men are killed by the 250
                     tigers thought to live in Sundarbans, which
                     stretches between India and Bangladesh along the
                     Bay of Bengal.

                     It is one of the few places left on Earth where
                     the dwindling species isn't being eradicated by
                     poachers or by villages and industries encroaching
                     on tiger habitats.

                     With 3,000 to 4,000 tigers in all, India is home
                     to about 60 percent of the world's remaining
                     stock, but hundreds of tigers are killed by
                     poachers each year, said Peter Jackson, chairman
                     of the Cat Specialist Group of the World
                     Conservation Union in Switzerland.

                     Their skins and bones are smuggled to China, South
                     Korea and Taiwan for use in folk medicines. And
                     Jackson predicts tigers will all but disappear in
                     the wild by century's end unless countries like
                     India do more to save them.

                     But the Sundarbans tigers probably will escape
                     that fate. While some poaching goes on in the
                     swamp, its forests are too thick and its tigers
                     too dangerous for many hunters.

                     "Even if the tiger disappears from everywhere
                     else, it will survive in Sundarbans because it's
                     very inhospitable terrain to poachers. It's also
                     the area where they are most likely to be killed
                     by tigers," said Arin Ghosh, director of the
                     network of tiger reserves that India established
                     in 1973.

                     Man is not at the top of the food chain in

                     The swamp's tigers, which weigh up to 500 pounds,
                     are completely at home in the channels that
                     separate the many islands. They have been known to
                     rocket out of the water onto the deck of an open
                     boat and pull a sleeping crewman off by the back
                     of his head.

                     K.C. Gayen, director of the Sundarbans reserve,
                     believes the cats often consider man an easier
                     catch than their main prey: wild pigs, spotted
                     deer and fish.

                     "The deer are faster. The boar has a tusk to
                     defend itself. Even the fish negotiate the swamps
                     and waterways better," Gayen said.

                     And tigers aren't the only predators.

                     Visiting on one of the 60-foot motor boats the
                     government permits to operate in the preserve,
                     crocodiles can be seen lurking in the shadows of
                     the mangrove trees that are partially submerged
                     during high tides.

                     Six species of shark roam the waterways, including
                     18-foot tiger shark and dog sharks that sometimes
                     cordon off schools of small fish and take turns
                     swimming through them to feast.

                     Few visitors dare land their boats on the muddy
                     banks of the islands and walk through the wooded
                     swamps. In addition to monkeys, monitor lizards
                     and the little mudskipper fish that can climb
                     trees, the branches often hold cobras and vipers.

                     Huge swarms of bees sometimes kill people. At one
                     point during a reporter's visit, a swarm 20 feet
                     long and 10 feet wide flew over the boat.

                     Only Forest Department officials are authorized to
                     travel inside the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve's
                     515-square-mile core area, which is set aside for
                     wildlife alone.

                     Around the core is a buffer zone of 560 square
                     miles. Outside that, many impoverished lower-caste
                     and indigenous tribal people live in remote

                     The villagers are allowed to fish, collect honey
                     and cut wood in Sundarbans if they first get
                     permits. But many venture into tiger territory
                     illegally each day, risking becoming the cats'

                     Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights
                     reserved. This material may not be published,
                     broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


                     Related stories:

                        * Save the tiger? Experts say it may be too
                          late - May 16, 1996
                        * Wildlife experts search for solution to tiger
                          decline - February 3, 1996
                        * Poaching threatens Indian tigers - September
                          16, 1995

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