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Brokering World Hunger Away, Featured, PayBito

Living with Tigers: The Emotional Story of Sundarbans’ Forest Guards

The Sundarbans jungle, situated in southwestern Asia, is home to the world-renowned royal Bengal tigers, known for their man-eating tendencies. Despite their notoriety, these creatures require vigilant protection against poachers. The mangrove forests of Sundarbans although unique, impose risks of human-wildlife conflicts. To address these concerns, the government has stationed numerous forest officers in the area. However, while the officers receive adequate compensation, their working conditions are far from ideal.

In pursuit of its mission to eliminate hunger, PayBito embarked on a journey to the heart of the Sundarbans’ villages to carry out the “Brokering World Hunger Away” campaign. The Sundarbans is among the world’s most treacherous regions, and life in this area is challenging, as humans and tigers coexist in a dangerous labyrinth within the largest mangrove forests on the planet. Fear is ubiquitous, as the tiger’s notoriety precedes it. 

Stories abound of honey collectors falling prey to tigers, fishermen being attacked by the big cats while out on the creeks, and villages where nearly every other household has a tiger widow. However, one narrative that is rarely discussed is that of the Sundarbans Forest Guardians, who face an almost insurmountable challenge of keeping humans and tigers apart. PayBito interviewed several forest officers and discovered harrowing accounts of their encounters with tigers and battles against poachers.

Also Read: Defying Gender Norms: How PayBito Empowered Namrata to Fight for Her Education and Freedom

The Heartbreaking Sacrifices of Raja, the Forest Guard of Sundarbans

In the heart of the Sundarbans’ mangrove forest in West Bengal, Raja Mondal found himself in a perilous situation as he faced a male tiger that was only ten meters away and staring at him intently. Despite having no escape route, Naskar remarkably survived the encounter and lived to recount the tale.

“On a daily basis, I conduct foot patrols in areas where human-tiger conflicts are likely to occur.”

As a forest guard in the Sundarbans, Raja’s role involves carrying out frequent foot patrols in the treacherous mangrove forests, which serve as the domain of the fearsome Sundarban tiger. Additionally, he is responsible for erecting barricades along the forest’s perimeter to mitigate any potential human-tiger confrontations.

“I am posted in the Sajnekhali wildlife reserve forest, which is very close to Pakhiralay. Although the river flows between the two, however, the Tigers have often crossed and entered the village.”

Forest Guard Raja

SajnekhalIis divided by the Datta River, with the tiger’s territory on one side and human settlements of Pakhiralay on the other. Despite the river being infested with crocodiles, it hardly serves as a barrier for the fearsome big cats, who are expert swimmers. They often swim across the river to the human side and make easy prey out of unsuspecting victims. In some cases, people have even been snatched from their beds at night.

The tigers are dangerous, and the villagers are well aware. Yet several people enter the core villages in the tiger’s den to collect honey or boat near the river banks to catch crabs. 

“The villagers are poor people, and catching crabs, fishing, and collecting honey are the only ways they can survive.”

Despite the perilous circumstances, the people of Sundarbans, plagued by indescribable poverty and necessity, often defy logic and venture illegally into the forest to catch crabs and fish, thereby making themselves vulnerable targets for the ferocious big cats.

“To keep the tiger and humans apart, we built the nylon fences around the forest.”

Raja bears the responsibility of maintaining a safe distance between humans and tigers, and his first line of defense is installing a Nylon Fence, which involves wading knee-deep in mud near the tiger’s den. Few jobs could be more challenging or perilous. The fence is susceptible to damage from tides, storms, and erosion, so the next task is to monitor it closely every day by conducting foot patrols.

A Close Encounter with a Tiger: Surviving the Glare

“One morning, as I was walking around the banks of the river, I noticed some rustling in the waters. That’s when I saw the male tiger swimming to the other side of the river. The tiger was looking directly at me. I did not move, I stood there. After a while, it kept swimming to reach the other side of the river. I was relieved.”

Raja was walking along the banks of the river one morning when he heard rustling in the waters. To his surprise, he spotted a male tiger swimming toward the other side of the river. The tiger made eye contact with Raja, who remained motionless, observing the majestic animal. Finally, the tiger reached the other side of the river, and Raja felt relieved that the encounter ended without incident.

“They say if the tiger looks at you, there is no chance that you will survive. But I did, I guess he let me live to tell the tale.”

According to popular belief, if a tiger looks at you, your chances of survival are slim to none. However, Raja felt fortunate that he lived to share his story of encountering a tiger during his patrol in the forest. He speculates that the tiger may have spared him, allowing him to recount his experience to others.

“Aren’t You Scared? Don’t You Feel Like Doing a More Safer Job?”

“We withhold the specifics of our job from our families, as it’s better for them to worry less and stay unaware of the dangers we face.”

The noble deeds of Raja Mondal have touched the hearts of the PayBito team. Despite being appointed by the government, Raja has gone above and beyond his call of duty to ensure the safety of the villagers from wild cats and the protection of animals from poachers. It is evident that his love for the unique mangrove forests of Sundarbans knows no bounds. When Raja confided in the team about keeping his work schedule hidden from his family, it was a true testament to the sacrifices he makes for the betterment of the community and the environment. Such selflessness and dedication are not only brave and inspiring.

“The whole world is amazed by the beauty of Sundarbans. And I, Raja from a small village of Kumirmari play a part in preserving it.”

It’s hard not to feel proud and inspired by the incredible dedication of the ‘Forest Guards of Sundarbans’. They have willingly sacrificed their comfortable lives and time with their families to protect the precious ecosystem of the Sundarbans. Their selfless actions are a true testament to their love for the environment and the community they serve. 

The PayBito team takes great pride in sharing the inspiring story of the forest rangers who risk their lives to ensure the safety of the villagers in the Sundarbans. Their unwavering dedication to protecting the environment and its inhabitants is a shining example of selflessness and bravery.

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