Growing economic pressures in the wake of COVID-19 and farms flooded with saline water during storms and cyclones are leaving them with few alternatives. On the face of it, life for people of the Sundarbans may seem simpler if they didn’t need to share the space with around 100 tigers. But there is growing awareness that tigers are essential for the protection of the ecosystem on which the people depend.
“If tigers weren’t there, people would destroy the forest by cutting down all its trees to earn a living,” said Mahua Pramanik, who is a mouli, or traditional wild honey collector, who used to travel into the forest with her family. “The environmental balance would be destroyed and we would face even worse damage from the storms.”
Pramanik and her husband are one of around 80 families involved in a honey cooperative that uses apiaries—or human-made beehives—placed in secure, netted areas on the edge of the forest. Collecting wild honey in the reserves leaves moulis vulnerable to tiger attacks, and approximately six honey collectors die each year in the Sundarbans due to human-tiger conflict.
“It’s much safer to do it this way, and the bees still collect pollen from the mangrove trees so the honey retains its high quality,” Pramanik said.
Not only this, but the project is also providing her with a better and more reliable source of income. “We are much better off than before, and I have got my kid admitted to a good school,” she said, smiling.