Tiger Tales: Sarbaranjan Mandal's lifelong passion
Sarbaranjan Mandal’s priorities are clear.
The forest. Its wildlife. His life. In that order.
The first tiger Sarbaranjan Mandal saw was a dead one. He was ten years old returning home from school. The streets were abuzz with the news that a tiger that had strayed into the village of Jamespur, India. Young Mandal went to investigate.
He found the animal that had been killed by the villagers and its body was lying under a mango tree. The sight moved him deeply. “I didn’t understand the consequences then,” says Mandal. “But I remember feeling a great sense of loss. I climbed the tree and sat looking at the tiger for a long time.” A desire to do something for wildlife was born in him that day.
Today, Mandal is a voluntary member of the Eco-Development Committee of Pakhiralaya in Sunderbans and works towards the conservation of the forest and its animals, particularly its tigers. He earns his living from the little farm he owns and by tutoring students. He organizes his life around the work he does for the forest department, which always gets priority.
Mandal feels the work of the forest department through the committees has helped sensitize people about wildlife and the ecosystem, but there are days when he feels a lot more has to be done.
One time a tiger strayed into Sonagaon village. Mandal rushed over to find thousands of villagers gathered around the animal that had already been tranquilized and caged by forest officers. The villagers were refusing to let the tiger back into the wild till their grievances were addressed and their various demands met. Mandal was disappointed to see an agitated mob holding the tiger ransom.
Fortunately, there have been other more positive tiger encounters. In another incidence, a tiger had strayed into a cattle shed of a villager in Jamespur on the day the cyclone Aila hit Sunderbans. Even though the village was reeling under the cyclone and large areas were flooded with brackish water, the villagers cooperated with the forest officials and helped them tranquilize the distressed animal and release it into the forest.
“The villagers actively participated in the rescue operations in spite of the cyclone,” says Mandal. “It filled my heart with joy.”
Mandal enjoys patrolling the forest and educating people about the importance of protecting the delicate ecosystem of Sunderbans. He has the full support of his wife who encourages him to try different ways of reaching out to people. Recently, he joined a theater troupe and has been performing a play on the conservation of Sunderbans as new way of raising awareness. The play has not only been a hit in Sunderbans but also found a receptive audience in nearby Kolkata, helping carry the message beyond tiny villages to the big city.
As a ten-year-old boy, Mandal wanted to grow up and save tigers and other wildlife. As a grown-up man, he is now living his dream.