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Sunderbans gets largest sanctuary

KOLKATA: If you are planning a weekend trip to the Sunderbans, you can now look beyond the Sajnekhali wildlife sanctuary.

With the state notifying the West Sunderbans Wildlife Sanctuary last month, the 
UNESCOWorld Heritage Site got its largest sanctuary. Comprising the forests of Chulkathi and Dhulibashani, this will be the fourth sanctuary in the Sunderbans after Sajnekhali (362 square kilometres), Lothian (38 sq kms) and Haliday (6 sq kms).

Covering 556.45 square kilometres area in the South 24-Parganas forest division, the new sanctuary will have Dhulibhashani I to its north, 
Bay of Bengal to its south and rivers Matla and Thakuran to its east and west respectively.

While talking to TOI, additional principal chief conservator of forests Pradeep Vyas said: "The notification (No. 1828-FOR/11M-86/2012(PT.I) dated 11/9/2013) was issued last month. The construction work for a protection camp at Chulkathi is underway and it will be completed soon."

According to him, tourism will also be allowed in the area. Several tourists already visit the nearby Lothian sanctuary every year. "A recent camera-trap exercise has found a presence of at least 22 tigers in the forests under the new sanctuary. The status of a sanctuary will ensure more protection measures in the forests around the West Sunderbans Wildlife Sanctuary," he added.

Sources said the proposal for creation of the new sanctuary was cleared in a meeting of state wildlife advisory board in February, last year.

Experts believe that 
the move will restrict illegal entry into the forests also. A study on tiger presence in the forests here, done by the Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve and WWF-India recently, had sounded an alarm on the human pressure on the forests. The study, which found presence of a minimum 22 tigers in the forests, had also found a human density of more than 550 persons per square kilometre in the 22 villages around the newly-declared sanctuary.

Though the forest department issues more than 3000 fishing licences for the area, people often resort to illegal felling of 'passur', 'dhudul' and 'goran' woods, apart from collecting honey.

Chief wildlife warden N C Bahuguna said that they are trying to bring the new sanctuary under the management of the tiger reserve to ensure a better protection status for it.

Hailing the move, state wildlife advisory board member Joydip Kundu said that with this notification the protection measures in the area will get a leg up. "If the new sanctuary is brought under the purview of the tiger reserve, the existing protection can be enhanced," he added.

The Times of India (23-10-2013)