Conservation by Murder: Man-eaters of Sundarbans by Sudipt Dutta (self-published) If a bird blessed with super stamina flew due west from Hong Kong for about 2,600 kilometres, it would find itself soaring over the Sundarbans - one of Asia's most fantastical wilderness areas. The name means 'beautiful forest' in Bengali and indeed it is. It's also huge. This vast mangrove forest sprawls across the delta created by the 'mega-confluence' of the Padma, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. Straddling the India-Bangladesh border on the Bay of Bengal, the Sundarbans is, thanks to its forest canopy, a dark and primeval place, crisscrossed by rivers and creeks varying in width from several kilometres to just a few centimetres. This land of dense forest cover, tidal waterways, mudflats and myriad islands is the habitat of the royal Bengal tiger, whose survival is the heart of Conservation by Murder. Author Sudipt Dutta has made the transition from journalism (he used to work at The Telegraph of Calcutta) to environmental protection. And here, his passion for and in-depth knowledge of the tigers of the Sundarbans is abundantly evident.Dutta focuses his study on the Indian portion of the Sundarbans, which accounts for about one-third of the total, but posits that his findings probably also apply east of the border. These tigers have gained notoriety for being man-eating beasts, which they are. However, Dutta challenges assumptions made of these magnificent creatures, and addresses the issues which confront their survival. Territorial encroachment by man, ignorance, superstition, lack of research, India's toothless conservation community and governmental inertia are all militating against sustaining tiger numbers in the Sundarbans, he says. He also tells us how the shocking human death toll from tiger attacks can be reduced. No less than 1,300 people, mostly poor fishermen, were killed by tigers in the Indian Sundarbans between 1964 and 2010, and Dutta maintains that scientifically proven conservation practices could easily reduce this number to a fraction of the current average of 30 fatal attacks a year. Dutta's prose has a distinctly conversational voice, which does much to enhance the readability of this data-heavy work. For example, he says that, following official doors being shut on his investigation: 'I have spent about four days each month since then puttering about in and around the permitted Sajnekhali sanctuary area, seeing, pondering, hearing, listening, soaking up everything I could ... I realised that government data was so badly maintained, compromised by political compulsions and bureaucratic sloth, that looking elsewhere actually showed me new light. My tapasya has borne fruit.' (The Sanskrit word tapasya means 'heat' or 'essential energy'.) Dutta's excitable and inquiring mind has resulted in a far-reaching study that wanders way beyond its central topic to embrace, among other areas: Indian lore, zoology, worldwide instances of man-eating large cats, and the commendably sustainable lifestyles of the fisherfolk and honey collectors of the Sundarbans - who are also the likeliest to feel the tiger's stealthy claw. Conservation by Murder is charming, informative, well-intentioned, and a portal into a mysterious and captivating world, one that recalls the torrid and arresting tiger paintings of post-Impressionist Henri Rousseau. The French artist's paintings glowed with magical realism. But the painting-like habitat Dutta describes is totally real and his suggestions for saving it are eminently sensible and well presented.