Tigers: Our glory, our life!
The Sundarbans, which means beautiful forest, is the beating green heart of Bangladesh. As wilderness areas and biodiversity keeps shrinking worldwide, the Sundarbans still stands strong as the world's largest mangrove forest, a world heritage site, and most significantly as the home to the majestic Bengal tigers- a symbol of pride for Bangladesh. The image of a tiger, the national animal of Bangladesh, is embedded in the country's culture as a symbolic celebration of the beauty and bravery of the nation. Yet, in the Sundarbans, 'Bagh'--the Bangla word for tiger--is a sound that is both feared and, at the same time, respected as a safeguard - a natural protector of the beloved forest that provides life and livelihoods to the people living next to the protected area.
The wild tigers in Bangladesh's Sundarbans are facing tremendous challenges for their existence. Though tigers inhabited in almost all the greater districts of Bangladesh in the past, the wonderful creature is now critically endangered; and in a sharply declining trail, just around a hundred tigers have hardly survived only in the Sundarbans. If we cannot still conserve the last population of tigers, the Sundarbans and its biodiversity will be at risk of extinction and one sixty million people of Bangladesh will have nothing left to feel proud of being a 'nation of tiger'. To be optimistic- the last chance is not yet over. Conserving the Sundarbans and it biodiversity by protecting the tigers with the united efforts of the government, business sector, other stakeholders and the general mass; has now become the demand of the time.
A hundred years ago, Bengal tigers roamed in many parts of Bangladesh. Although the numbers have reduced significantly, the Sundarbans is still home to the largest single population of tigers in the world and is a global stronghold for biodiversity. In undertaking the Bagh Activity, USAID and the Government of Bangladesh have recognized the important role that a charismatic species like the tiger can play in conservation, socio-economic empowerment and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Global challenge and situation of Bangladesh
Just within a century, global tiger numbers have reduced from 100,000 to only 3,200. The 13 countries where tigers are found now are: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam and North Korea. Tigers are marked as the most vulnerable animal to extinction in the world and in last 60 years 3 out of the 9 tiger sub-species - the Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers - have been lost forever. Main threats to tigers are:
Tigers are illegally killed or poached because their pelts are valuable in the black market trade, their body parts are used in traditional Asian (especially Chinese) medicines and they are seen as threats to human communities. As tigers are decreasing, demand for their body parts is increasing day by day. Some syndicated criminals are meeting that increasing demand in the black market trade. Tiger poaching and illegal wild trade has made tigers the most endangered animal day by day.
The main reason of wildlife crime in Bangladesh is basically lack of coordination between local and national level law enforcement organizations and lesser communal and international supports. This illegal wildlife trade is not limited only in the Bangladesh-India border areas, but also expanded through Myanmar border.
Depletion of tiger food
We are destroying not only tigers, but also their main food - deer. From a research operated by the local NGO WildTeam we have found that, each year 10,000 deer are hunted. To the inhabitants around Sundarbans area, deer is a royal food. Deer are also killed at the hand of poachers and illegal traders, who also kills tigers.
People and tigers increasingly compete for space. The conflict threatens the world's remaining wild tigers and poses a major problem for communities living in or near forests with tigers. As forests shrink and prey gets scarce, tigers are forced to hunt domestic livestock, which many local communities depend on for their livelihood. In retaliation, tigers are killed or captured. "Conflict" tigers are known to end up for sale in black markets. Local community dependence on forests for fuel wood, food and timber heightens the risk of tiger attacks on people. Every year about 30 people get attacked in Bangladesh's Sundarbans, 70 livestock fall prey to tigers, and up to 3 tigers are killed when they stray into villages. Now WildTeam has encouraged and supported the creation of 49 Village Tiger Response Teams and more than 350 volunteers to keep villages safe from tigers and tigers safe from people by responding to the human-tiger conflict. From 2012, they have also started a campaign to protect forest with the slogan of "Sundarbans - like our mother!"
Tigers have lost 93% of their historical range. Their habitat has been destroyed, degraded and fragmented by human activities. The clearing of forests for agriculture and timber as well as the building of road networks and other development activities pose serious threats to tiger habitats. Fewer tigers can survive in small, scattered islands of habitat, which leads to a higher risk of inbreeding and makes tigers more vulnerable to poaching. Every year 46 to 58 thousands of square mile forests are destroyed. With the diminishment of the forests wildlife is struggling to survive.
Tigers play a greater role in protecting biodiversity, increasing socio-economical capacity, reducing influence of climate change and acclimatization. Realizing the fact, on US people's part, USAID has joined the Government of Bangladesh and are together operating the Tiger Conservation Project. This project is working on strengthening the relationship between the Sundarbans and the people of the locality, and ensuring safety for both humans and flora and fauna of the forest. WildTeam, the local non-government and non-profit wildlife conservation organization is pioneering in the tiger conservation efforts in Bangladesh since 2003 and managing the implementation of USAID's Bengal Tiger Conservation Activity (Bagh), under the guidance of the Forest Department, and with technical support from the Smithsonian Institution and the Bangladesh Centre for Advance Studies (BCAS). Bagh Activity is expanding conservation's knowledge base, combating wildlife trafficking, mitigating human-tiger-conflict, spreading conservation awareness and improving livelihoods in an eco-friendly manner.
In the last sixty years we have lost three out of the nine tiger sub-species; the Bali, Caspian and Java tigers are gone forever. Will the Bengal Tiger of the Sundarbans be the next to follow? It's not about saving the tiger. It's about saving us. No government, NGO and local community alone can save tigers and the Sundarbans. We need support from all corners. Especially the civil society and private sector can play a vital role in raising awareness and funding for tiger conservation effort. USAID's Bengal Tiger Conservation Activity (Bagh), a Project implemented by WildTeam, is organizing a landmark event, Greater Dialogue for a Greater Cause, on 3 December 2016 at Utshab Banquet Hall, Radisson Blu Dhaka Water Garden, to inspire to engage in an urgent cause, saving the Royal Bengal tigers of the Sundarbans. Greater Dialogue for a Greater Cause is presenting the opportunity for the private sector in Bangladesh to have a meaningful dialogue on the importance of tiger conservation. We are hopeful that, through this information exchange, the business community will understand that it can and should assume a role in conserving our environment. If it's good for the environment, it's good for the people; and if it's good for the people, it's good for business.
Together we can generate the power to help us safeguard Bangladesh's precious tiger population and their habitat by taking a stance with WildTeam. Private Sector's commitment will aid in raising awareness and funds to protect our tigers to:
l Build Research station near the Sundarbans for continuous research and monitoring of the tigers and the habitat.
l Support SMART Patrolling in the ground to ensure protection from poaching.
l Support Community Patrol Group and Village Tiger Response Teams to improve community engagement and capacity to protect tigers and the Sundarbans.
l Sponsor National and local level Champaign Events to raise mass awareness on tiger conservation issues.
l Join livelihood programs to reduce dependency of the local community on the Sundarbans.
l Develop cause marketing campaign to raise awareness and fund for tiger conservation.
Together we can save our tigers, the pride and identity of Bangladesh. r
Iqbal Hussain is a communication
programmes management specialist
Tigers Today in Bangladesh
s In the 1930s, there were Bengal tigers in 17 districts across Bangladesh. Now, they only remain within the 6,017 square kilometers of the Sundarbans.
s According to a survey conducted by the Forest Department in 2015, there are 106 wild tigers in Bangladesh.