While the festive season is here spreading cheer all around, several hundred employees of the state forest department are set to lose their sleep.
Winter is the season when tigers and elephants stray more into human habitation, destroying property, crops and lives. The Joint Force Management Committee (JFMC), comprising locals and forest staff are busy planning ways to will step up patrols to meet this seasonal threat.
“In North Bengal, elephants and Indian Gaurs are straying and destroying crops. Our staff is keeping a watch,” said conservator (north) Sunita Ghatak. According to Ghatak, herbivorous animals stray as there is plentiful food outside the forest.
“We cannot stop elephants from straying outside the forest. However, we can alert people to protect their life and properties,” Ghatak added.
Man versus animal conflict is common in North Bengal. Elephants have attacked humans and there has been frequent deaths and damage to property and crops. Frustrated locals have often blocked roads and gheraoed forest staff. Forest department officials have also been manhandled by irate villagers.
The same trends have also been observed in south Bengal districts such as Bankura and Midnapore. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has frequently expressed concern over the death of civilians and told the forest department to take immediate steps.
In Sunderbans, tigers straying into villages are a potent threat. The low levels of water in the rivers in this area in winter also help the big cats to swim to the islands with human settlements relatively easily.
“Generally tigresses come out of the forest for delivering cubs during winter. During the time of delivery, they prefer to stay away from tigers and try to find a safe place. An injured tiger can also enter villages for easy prey.
“Another cause of tiger straying is the North-East wind,” said a senior forest official, requesting anonymity. Sunderbans is located in the southern part of the state. According to the forest officer, the wind blowing into tiger habitat can lead to straying of big cats.
“I will not deny that in this winter season, animals stray into the human habitats more. The members of JFMC and forest departments employees remain extra alert to minimise the threats,” forest minister Binay Krishna Barman told HT.