Daily Picture Show

Endangered Tigers Still Dangerous In The Sundarbans

For most of history, tigers have been dreaded, mythical beasts — vicious killers that deserved no sympathy. But the tables have turned after centuries of hunting and poaching, and the world's tiger population is now dwindling dangerously low in numbers. Conservationists are fighting tooth and nail to protect the endangered predator.

Despite that, there's an exception along the waters of the Bay of Bengal. In the wild mangroves of the Sundarbian region, king tiger still reigns. Although historically low in numbers, they pose a daily threat to villagers, who subsist by fishing deep in the tiger-dense forests. According to photographer Karthik Subramanian: "Not a single day in the Sundarbans passes without hearing of someone being attacked or killed by a tiger."

  • Tigers are a menace to villagers in the Sundarban region of India and Bangladesh — but are still an integral part of local culture. Traditionally, the tiger is believed to be an incarnation of a mystical demon named "Dakkhin Rai."
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    Tigers are a menace to villagers in the Sundarban region of India and Bangladesh — but are still an integral part of local culture. Traditionally, the tiger is believed to be an incarnation of a mystical demon named "Dakkhin Rai."
    Karthik Subramanian
  • Situated on the Bay of Bengal, the Sundarbans mangrove forest is one of the largest in the world, and has been named a UNESCO world heritage site. It is an important region for endangered tigers. But people who live in this region live in constant fear of attack.
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    Situated on the Bay of Bengal, the Sundarbans mangrove forest is one of the largest in the world, and has been named a UNESCO world heritage site. It is an important region for endangered tigers. But people who live in this region live in constant fear of attack.
    Karthik Subramanian
  • Shabut Malik (center), for example, was attacked while fishing in the jungle. "I started to scream but was silenced when it pounced upon me," he told the photographer. "I tried to stop it by plunging both my hands into his mouth. In the scuffle I fell into the water. ... I stayed underwater as long as I could and when I came up the tiger was gone."
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    Shabut Malik (center), for example, was attacked while fishing in the jungle. "I started to scream but was silenced when it pounced upon me," he told the photographer. "I tried to stop it by plunging both my hands into his mouth. In the scuffle I fell into the water. ... I stayed underwater as long as I could and when I came up the tiger was gone."
    Karthik Subramanian
  • Ahmad Sheik explains to his community how the tiger attacked Shabut Malik. He had been with Malik, and hit the tiger with his oar in an attempt to help. In this fishing village of Gabura, six people were killed by tigers in the most recent month.
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    Ahmad Sheik explains to his community how the tiger attacked Shabut Malik. He had been with Malik, and hit the tiger with his oar in an attempt to help. In this fishing village of Gabura, six people were killed by tigers in the most recent month.
    Karthik Subramanian
  • Shabut Malik recovers the day after being attacked. He will be unable to work for the next few months, and doubts he will ever return to the forest, although he has six daughters to support.
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    Shabut Malik recovers the day after being attacked. He will be unable to work for the next few months, and doubts he will ever return to the forest, although he has six daughters to support.
    Karthik Subramanian
  • The family of Niren Sarkar, a 55-year-old fisherman, poses for a portrait. The fisherman was killed in the jungle five days earlier. Sarkar's sons will continue fishing in the forest to support the family, as other jobs are scarce.
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    The family of Niren Sarkar, a 55-year-old fisherman, poses for a portrait. The fisherman was killed in the jungle five days earlier. Sarkar's sons will continue fishing in the forest to support the family, as other jobs are scarce.
    Karthik Subramanian
  • Sushanth Mandal (in the photograph) was killed by a tiger. His brother Bablu continues fishing. "Earning a livelihood here is almost an impossible task," he told the photographer. "The way things are now, with ... the risk of getting attacked by tigers make me shiver. You don't even want to think about it."
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    Sushanth Mandal (in the photograph) was killed by a tiger. His brother Bablu continues fishing. "Earning a livelihood here is almost an impossible task," he told the photographer. "The way things are now, with ... the risk of getting attacked by tigers make me shiver. You don't even want to think about it."
    Karthik Subramanian
  • In the Sundarbans, Hindu and Muslim fishermen pray to goddess Bonbibi before and after their trips, as she is protector of the forest and the enemy of tiger-demon Dakkhin Rai.
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    In the Sundarbans, Hindu and Muslim fishermen pray to goddess Bonbibi before and after their trips, as she is protector of the forest and the enemy of tiger-demon Dakkhin Rai.
    Karthik Subramanian
  • Anxiety and fear consume a fishing communities in the Sundarbans both before and after the fishermen leave for trips into the jungle. The wives of the fishermen pray and wait that their husbands return safely.
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    Anxiety and fear consume a fishing communities in the Sundarbans both before and after the fishermen leave for trips into the jungle. The wives of the fishermen pray and wait that their husbands return safely.
    Karthik Subramanian
  • Satish Sarkar, an 89-year-old fisherman, started fishing at age 9. "The tiger came from nowhere and attacked me," he told the photographer. "I caught the neck of the tiger and wrestled with it in the water for 20 minutes and I survived"
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    Satish Sarkar, an 89-year-old fisherman, started fishing at age 9. "The tiger came from nowhere and attacked me," he told the photographer. "I caught the neck of the tiger and wrestled with it in the water for 20 minutes and I survived"
    Karthik Subramanian
  • Fisherman Shabut Malik, not pictured, was attacked by a tiger one hour earlier while fishing in the forest. Nunnar Kathun, widow of a tiger victim, sympathizes with Malik's family.
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    Fisherman Shabut Malik, not pictured, was attacked by a tiger one hour earlier while fishing in the forest. Nunnar Kathun, widow of a tiger victim, sympathizes with Malik's family.
    Karthik Subramanian
  • Eighteen widows of tiger victims pose for a portrait; the youngest is 22 years old. One woman lost her husband two months ago. They are part of a struggling self-help group run by an NGO.
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    Eighteen widows of tiger victims pose for a portrait; the youngest is 22 years old. One woman lost her husband two months ago. They are part of a struggling self-help group run by an NGO.
    Karthik Subramanian

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While working on a photojournalism masters project for the University of Westminster, Subramanian spent several weeks this past summer documenting small fishing villages in the Indian and Bangladeshi parts of the Sundarbans. In addition to sharing a few photos with captions, the photographer also sent a description of the process.

"The Sundarbans Delta ... is the most densely populated tiger reserve in the world. With lack of electricity supply and complete lack of social security schemes, most of the villagers are pushed to make a living by fishing, prawn collecting and honey collecting inside the tiger reserve. ... On one hand, the tiger population is decreasing and needs to be protected. Yet on the other hand, the people who are forced to make a living in the forest deserve to be safe as well. ...

The time when I shot the story was the monsoon season, and the air was just filled with so much moisture that fungus shrouded every bit of clothing left around. And at one point my laptop stopped working because of the moisture content. Sickness is ever-present around that time; I got terribly ill twice. ... Snakes, insects, and other reptiles make frequent visits into your room. Yet it is one of the most beautiful places on the face of the planet.

The project consists of photographs of few of the many families that live with the fear of losing another member of the community to a tiger. ... The fishermen feel that every time they journey into the forest, the absolute silence ... is what is more scary than encountering one. Sundarbans is few of the places in the world where animals still rule over humans."

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