The Sundarbans, the only coastal mangrove tiger habitat in the world, runs from southern Bangladesh into India’s West Bengal State. It is a unique ecosystem where tigers have become excellent swimmers and can swim from one mangrove island to another in search of territory and prey.
The Indian Sundarbans is home to more than 4.5 million people and wild honey collection is a major traditional livelihood for many. But being a mouli (traditional honey collector) is a dangerous job. While out in the reserves collecting wild honey, these moulis are vulnerable to tiger attacks. Approximately six honey collectors die each year in the Sundarbans due to human-tiger conflict, a tragedy that has led to the term “blood honey.”
Less risk, more honey
WWF India, in association with the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve (SBR) Directorate, has implemented a program to significantly reduce the number of tiger-related deaths of honey collectors. A pilot study in 2014 placed apiary boxes—or man-made beehives— in a designated, fenced area within the reserve to be managed by moulis with licenses to harvest wild honey. Results revealed that the wild bees attracted to the boxes produced nearly double the amount of honey collected from hives in the wild. The initiative was further expanded with support from Dabur India Limited to include and train more moulis.
Encouraged by the success of WWF India’s pilot efforts, the West Bengal Forest Directorate, the Panchayat and Rural Development Department, and Government of West Bengal came together to scale up the project. In the forest fringe villages of 24 Parganas (South) Division—the region’s second largest protected area after Sundarban Tiger Reserve —they provided loans to the community with the support of the West Bengal State Cooperative Bank Ltd. The funds will promote the project and help augment other livelihood activities.
As of today, 70 honey collectors have now been trained and are collecting honey from a total of 1,400 apiary boxes placed in designated areas in the forest camps of 24 Parganas (South) Division. The moulis own and manage the apiary boxes and no longer have to collect wild honey from deep within the mangrove forest and put themselves in harm’s way.