I departed for India on July 4th morning, this was the second time to visit, our work in Sundarbans, Manas this year. I flew to Mumbai, then an early morning
flight next day and met up with Indrajit Sengupta of Saving Tiger Society, local Ngo and working partner in our work in India.
We went to Indrajits families house, did some admin and then a short time later, we went to the wholesalers and shops, to purchase rain jackets, trousers, solar lights, searchlights and water filters, that would be distributed to local villages in Sundarbans and forest staff of Sundarbans. Next morning, we loaded the car up with all the items and made our way to the Sundarban Project area in Norforgunj, on the way, stopping to purchase a new printer for the learning institute office. We arrived at the project area mid-afternoon, the car was loaded onto a motorised rickshaw for the last mile of the journey, as the road is made of bricks and not suitable for cars. We walked the last part, as we had been sitting down for some time and gave us chance to stretch our legs, after arriving at the learning institute, had a look at the school roof, plastic sheeting had been put on the roof, as one part was leaking into the classroom at the apex of the roof, this would stay on until after the monsoon , mid-September, we would then replace the roof with concrete sheets, also replacing the thatch on top, so as in keeping with the natural surroundings, we had also agree at the same time in September, to replace the bamboo walls with concrete and to complete the play yard. The outside of the school, also most of the classrooms had been painted green and with wildlife pictures. This had been done by Biswajit the art teacher, with a little help from a local person and they had done a fantastic job, it had taken around 26 days to complete.
In the late evening and most of the next morning, the heavy rains came, this was my first time to visit in monsoon season. After some breakfast, we then went to see some land 1 km away, the local person wanted to donate it for a useful purpose, access would be made available to the land from the roadside, the size of the land is 3 Bigga, ( about the size of a football pitch). After looking at the land, we said to the local landowner, we would discuss and look at our options, one suggestion was a medical centre, as there was nothing in the local area, the nearest is Basanti which is 15-16 kms from here. After the meeting, we went to the learning institute area, for a meeting with the teachers and paid their wages for the last month. We would also pay July’s wages the following week and asked for ideas for the future, also explaining that we had purchased many books in Kolkata, on wildlife, education in both English and Bengali for a new small library we are to open at the school in a few days.
There was also discussions, about a couple of other programmes that would happen whilst here, that is the drawing competition and Global Tiger Day rally on July 29th, though Indrajit and I would be in Manas National Park for Global Tiger Day, with some of the staff and also some of the older students, would have a chance to see another forest area, as part of their nature education, mentioning that team work was critical to ensure these programmes go smoothly. In the afternoon, we had organised a football match, between local teachers and some young lads, the pitch was a mud bath and we played barefoot, and we won by one goal, at the end jumping into the river, to clean off all the mud collected, as we were covered from head to toe. I washed down with some fresh water at the school project area, which was short walk away.
Over the last 2 months before my arrival, Bibek and Ali, two of the Saving Tiger Society team, had done a survey of birds, mammals in Birinchibari, Norforgunj, the area surrounding and close to the school project area. They found 57 species of birds and 16 species of reptiles / mammals, I have kept a list with the diary in our office back in UK. One of the important situations also brought to my attention, was that when women are fishing, dragging the nets in Sundarbans area and it is the ladies menstrual cycle this can attract crocodiles and they can lose their lives, we hope in the future to give more external livelihood work, so they can stop fishing and do something such as making local clothes, to sell. In the afternoon, we had two meetings, one was to give out invites for the drawing competition that was to take place on Saturday, also to check out the venue. We then had a meeting with the villagers of Tridinabagar, we also visited in February. The villagers mentioned about external livelihood projects for ladies, we also asked their feedback on Tiger squads, there was about 100 villagers present at the meeting. We are looking to start the Tiger squads here and two other villages in October 2015.
We also talked about medical programmes and we are looking to role these out from August onwards, here and two other villages, as well as Norforgunj around the school project area.
Next morning, we opened a small library in the school, we had purchased the books in Kolkata, on the day of my arrival, covering wildlife, education and some sport in Bengali and English, we shall look to add to them, over the years.
Next day, we took a boat to Kultoli, a village where we are also looking to set up Tiger squads and help with medical camps. We had visited here in February, we gave out a small amount of solar lights to designated villagers, we would get feedback before year end, then looking to give more. The villagers also mentioned to us, that a Tiger was in the last couple of days observed, walking on the main road, close to the village, there was no conflict, before it went back into the core forest area. We made our way back to Norforgunj by car, as we had been told a boat had sunk recently on the route back, as the car was – the most sensible route for safety of all. Next Day around mid-day, a drawing competition had been arranged by Saving Tiger Society / Tiger Awareness, the theme was nature and there was three different age groups, covering the whole of Norforgunj area, expectation levels were around 70 people, actual participants was nearer 200, we had to ask the head of a school close by, if we could use a couple of rooms for the extra children, they were more than happy to help. They had an hour to draw on their topics, then the judges would start to assess the entries. Indrajit and my-self gave a short talk on community and conservation work. Then the winning prizes were given, the winning entries, won back packs, which are practical for school, at the end of the programme, we also gave them all some snacks.
Next Day, we had organised a small football tournament, involving three teams and a team involving Saving Tiger Society staff and myself. We lost 3-1, in the match, we again played in barefoot and the ground was harder, though no blisters this time, as when played in February, I did manage to get a big blister on my right foot. The tournament was won by another local side, they received a trophy, and we received the Fair Play Award trophy. The weather on the day, was hot and humid and it had brought together the local community, also making them aware of our work.
On July 13th, we were to give items to the forest staff of 3 forest camp areas, due to lack of time, with some new officers in duty now, we were not able to arrange this, on this visit. We used the searchlights and waterproofs for the forest staff in Panna, in August. The water filters, will be used at a later date, in another programme. Instead, we met the villagers of Tridinabagar in the Jhorkhali area, we gave 420 plus Lime trees, there was a list made of each person that received one, some were given by myself, Indrajit and the other members of Saving Tiger Society.
Next Day, we went to a school in Birinichi area, we donated 90 umbrellas to the teachers and students, they are from farming families, also they are learning off the floor, we hope before the year end , to provide benches, seats for the school classrooms.
Next day, we had arranged to give some 100 more fruit trees, indigenous to Sundarbans, to the villagers of Norforgunj, they collected them through-out the day from the school project area.
Next morning, we went out on a small fishing boat, around an island close to Norforgunj, Tiger visit this area as there is prey species, though are not resident there.
In the evening, Saving Tiger Society, had their first special general meeting, this was held at the school project area, using one of the large rooms, they had invited some 70 local people from the community, most did manage to attend, despite the heavy rains starting a short time before the event started at 7pm.
During the evening, certificates were given out, to the winners of the art competition from a few days back, some members of the society, had new roles given to them. They showed a power point slides showing the programmes they had done over the last 4.5 years, for which Tiger Awareness had been their main supporter. I was also made an honorary advisory member, which was an hour for me. Our organisations have the same working ethos, collaboration, team work for forest area and wildlife, by working with local communities and forest staff.
Next morning, we made our way back to Kolkata by car, it was raining heavy, in Kolkata, some of the side streets were flooded, Indrajit had a meeting with his Vice President, and I went and did some admin at this time. Then we went to Indrajits family home, next morning, we took at flight up north, we had a day at Dow Hill, then took a car to Buxa Tiger Reserve, to have a meeting with the
Field Director and the Deputy Field Director. We mentioned our past and present work, to give them a understanding of what we are about, also asking their advice, on how we could help in Buxa, in the future, the Deputy Director, mentioned about looking at a project with the local communities in the small tea garden areas, of which there are many, as well as some large organisations.
He also mentioned about metal detectors to locate snares, GPS AND Leopard protection suites. Buxa has no resident Tiger, though there are transient ones from Bhutan and Assam that spend time here. They are looking to increase the numbers, the area has lots of villages inside the core area, as well as the tea gardens, the challenge is to find balance for all as best possible and avoid man animal conflict.
Next morning, we took a train from Alipurduar to Barpeta Road, Assam, our train was delayed by 3 hours, we were collected by car from Barpeta Road, then went onto Florican Cottages, the base of Manas Ever Welfare Society, local Ngo, we stayed here in February also this year. A short time, after arrival, we went for a walk on the periphery of the national park, we observed two rhino inside the park, and one had a collar on it for research situation. Next morning, we visited inside Manas National Park, we observed many birds, including Fish Eagle and Kingfishers, we also stopped at Mathanguri, we observed some forest department Elephants grazing on the Bhutan side of the river, there was also wild buffalo in the same area. On our way back to camp, near to our camp, we spotted three rhino, getting close to the boundary fence, two were the ones from yesterday, they were trying to get to the villagers crops, also they were mixing with local cattle, dogs were also barking at them the villagers were shouting at them, for them to go back, we were at this time, still with a forest guard, so we stayed for some time, to ensure they were ok, they eventually went back into deeper forest cover. In the afternoon, we did some preparations for the Global Tiger Day rally on July 29th, here at Manas, we went to see the venue, and around 200 people had been invited, also getting invites printed off, so that they could be given to local people and forest staff.
Next morning, we went to Bhuyapara forest range, we had supported last year here the beat camps with medical check-ups for the forest staff, we went by elephant for three hours, the vegetation and grasses at this time of year, was as high as the Elephants. We could see footmarks of other wildlife, including a tree that had been scraped with claws by a Tiger some time ago. The forest staff, did say that Tiger had been observed recently in the areas we had visited in this time.
Next day, we spent the day giving out invites for Global Tiger Day rally in Kokhrajar, also having a frank conversation with forest officers. In the afternoon, Mews put a proposal to work together in the area, it was goat programme for external livelihood. We also visited a village called Naranguri, this was a village that needs lots of support, due to an incident last year, also we visited the two make shift forest staff camps there. The forest staff, told us that Tiger killed a wild boar about 10 days ago, close to the anti -poaching tower, we also observed the scat with wild boar hair in it, about 100 metres from the tower, they also mentioned Leopard are seen in this area. We talked with the forest staff, what type of support in equipment they could do with. In the evening, we went to Mathanguri again, we were to stay overnight, on the way, and we could hear Elephants trumpeting by the roadside, we took some supplies for food, as it has basic amenities.
It overlooks the river, which is fast flowing, around 200 metres wide, with the hills of Bhutan on the other side, a very beautiful place. Next morning, we went for a walk, we talked about how we three Ngos could further collaborate in the future. One was a handicraft project in jute items, which could be marketed locally and in Guwahati, also solar lighting on the periphery of the national park, which would help to keep wildlife away from villages where it is installed.
Early next morning, Indrajit went with the mini bus driver to the Barpeta Road railway station to collect the students and some of his team from Sundarbans, who would arrive for the Global Tiger Day rally.
The weather over most of the visit, has been around 35 – 40 degrees, which I am told, is about 15 degrees higher than normal at this time of year, even at night there was little drop in the temperature or humidity, also the generator at Florican, was struggling to cope. Next day in the afternoon, we took the students to visit Manas National Park, earlier in the day, they had observed the two rhino on the periphery, not something you would see in Sundarbans.
We observed a small herd of Elephants, shortly after entering into the park area, then another small herd a short distance further into the forest area. We were to take the students to Mathanguri, though due to bridge repairs we could not. We took another route, short time on the track, we observed fresh Tiger pugmark, probably 2- 3 days old, which was a great sight to see.
We proceeded on again for a short time, then close to one of the anti-poaching towers, we observed a small herd of Elephants at a salt lick, also a couple of Gaur visited the same place. We observed them for about 20 minutes, then making our way back to the camp area. In the evening it was good to note, that the forest dept had put on extra patrols to keep watch over the Rhinos that were grazing close to the National park boundary. Next morning, we visited the park area again with the students, this time we managed to take them to Mathanguri also. We observed a small herd of Elephants, the mother was on high alert and mock charged the last gypsy. The afternoon was spent getting ready for the Global Tiger Day rally tomorrow.
July 29th, Global Tiger Day rally, we supported with, Saving Tiger Society, Mews and the forest department in the Bansbari Range Interpretation Centre. On arrival our first responsibility was to make the 150 participants aware of the schedule of the day, we then did a rally walk around the village areas for 3 kilometres, we had a big banner and the children had placards with Save Tiger / the Save Forests in the local language on them, we had also given all the participants caps, there was also some chants shouted out by the children and lead by the forest department, saying Save Forest, Save Tiger. After the rally, there was some speeches by the forest department, Indrajit, myself and Mews, on conserving forests and Tiger. There was then a drawing competition on a nature theme, there was also some lunch for everyone at Florican, and this was funded by Tiger Awareness. After lunch, we gave the prizes for the drawing competition, we again gave backpacks for prizes, which is practical for school use, and then at the end, we gave 50 waterproof jackets and trousers to forest staff. The programme was good success, there had never been such a rally for forest and wildlife in the area before, we had also organised a Global Tiger Day rally in Sundarbans, this was run by the teachers and the students and local community were involved, as like last year. We hope it will inspire others to get involved in helping save forests and wildlife. On the last day in Manas, we gave some water filters, searchlights and solar lights to the forest staff, they will be used in 3 forest beat camps in Bansbari range area. A short time after, we gave 60 mosquito nets to the villagers of Naranguri, they came to collect them from us at our camp, we explained the reason for them and that as they live in forest, we would like to support further on our next visit. In the afternoon, we made our way back to Guwahati, then fly back to Kolkata.
The rains had been very heavy whilst we had been away, the airport only had one run way open. Next day, I flew back to UK.
This visit, is just a few days short of a month. We have supported forest staff and local communities in our work. We have planned forward for the next 6 months. The Global Tiger Day rallies went well and had good participation.