Those planning for a holiday in the Sundarbans this winter have something new to look forward to. It is well-known that tigers in the Sundarbans are notoriously difficult to spot. Often a distant roar or a momentary sight of a patch of yellow-and-black skin amidst the trees is all that tourists manage to savour. The reason is the very dense mangrove forests which are impossible to penetrate, unlike other types of forests which can be made accessible to some extent by building roads or pathways.
Now the Zoo and Ecotourism Museum coming up in Jharkhali is going to address the issue to some extent. The centre has been some time in the making and is now almost ready. A huge 300-acre patch of forested land has been taken up by the forest department and converted into the zoo. Though called a zoo, it is not a conventional zoo but rather an open-air zoo.
Map showing Jharkhali Forest Range and Park (marked in circle)
Rescue centre-cum-open zoo
The open-air zoo is actually a rescue centre for tigers. This has been designed as the second rescue centre for tigers in West Bengal, after the one in Khairbari in Alipurduar district, which however treats the animals in cages (the Khairbari centre also treats leopards). This is a welcome addition as sending all rescued tigers to one centre in the far northern part of the state is difficult.
A rescued tiger at the Khairbari centre
The area is a mangrove forest on the banks of Chhoto Herobhanga River, and is actually an extension of the forest. It’s just that to keep the animals within a particular space in order to keep a watch over them till they are completely well and also to make them viewable to tourists, the area, which is 100 acres of the total of 300 acres, has been enclosed by a strong wire fence. It has been divided into four enclosed spaces. The rest of the 300 acres is taken up by the mangrove forest.
For treating the rescued tigers (often tigers stray into the forest villages to catch and eat cattle, and are caught by the villagers, and in the process, often get injured) six cages have been kept at the centre – two squeeze cages and two ordinary ones. A team of veterinary surgeons and forest officials would treat and keep watch over the tigers. After being treated in the cages, they would be released into the open but enclosed spaces to make them get used to the jungle, before being released back into the wild. The open spaces, being an extension of the mangrove forest, would make them feel at home. Also, deer and other animals, which form the prey base of tigers, would be released in sufficient numbers from time to time. This is because being fed meat would blunt the hunting skills of tigers, which are essential for survival.
A tiger in the Sundarbans
A new destination
The Zoo and Ecotourism Museum in Jharkhali is being set up under the supervision of Alipore Zoo and West Bengal Forest Department. To begin with, two young and two adult tigers would occupy the four enclosed spaces. The centre would also act as a research centre on tigers. Besides tigers, the Jharkhali centre would also play host to chital (type of deer), wild boar, black cobra and other animals endemic to the area. This has been done to make the place more attractive to tourists. Jharkhali is accessible both over land and through waterways.
So dear tourists, those of you eager for a glimpse of the royal Bengal tiger, start planning for Jharkhali. This time you won’t be disappointed. Bonbibi has indeed come to your rescue!
Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv