Dhaka takes aim at poachers as tiger numbers fall

Bengal tigers are critically endangered species, as conservationists work to educate people on the need to save the global tiger population. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 30 July 2020

Dhaka takes aim at poachers as tiger numbers fall

  • Unchecked poaching blamed for species decline in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans

DHAKA: Bangladesh is struggling to protect the threatened Bengal tiger population in its vast Sundarbans mangrove forest, with unchecked poaching blamed for the alarmingly low numbers.

The big cats continue to be a “critically endangered” species, experts say.

“We have to stop the poachers in the mangrove forests. In the past year alone, three unnatural tiger deaths were recorded, which is very unfortunate,” M. A. Aziz, a zoology professor at the Jahangirnagar University in Svar, outside Dhaka, told Arab News on Wednesday.

Poaching is the main cause of the significant fall in tiger numbers, with 97 percent of the population lost in the past 100 years and the species on the “critically endangered” list.

The Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an ecologically fragile region along the India-Bangladesh border that holds one of the world’s largest mangrove forests and is home to the Bengal tiger along with rare flora and fauna species.

While conservationists work to educate people on the need to save the global tiger population — International Tiger Day is observed on July 29 every year — figures released by Bangladeshi authorities tell a different story.

According to its 2018 tiger census, there are 114 Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans, a slight increase from the 106 reported in the previous year. However, this is an alarming drop in numbers from 2004 when the population stood at 440.

For the last two studies, authorities used almost 500 cameras to capture images of the tigers over 249 days. More than 2,500 images were studied by the forest department to arrive at the latest figures.

Experts say conserving the big cat numbers is a work in progress.

“We are constantly working to increase the tiger population, and our efforts are yielding good results as the number of tigers increased by eight in the latest census,” Modinul Ahsan, a deputy project director with Bangladesh Forest Development, told Arab News. 

In recent years, authorities have carried out round-the-clock smart patrols in the forests to check for poachers and created safe breeding environments for the tigers.

However, challenges remained in saving the big cats from extinction, he said.

“We need to increase the human resources and logistics to guard the forests more effectively. A field study is required to ascertain the impact of climate change on the tiger population as well,” Ahsan said.

The forest department is planning a tiger conservation project that is expected to be in place by early 2021 at an estimated cost of $400,000.

“As part of the project, we will conduct the camera trapping census again. In addition to this, there will be a special focus on reducing the conflict between man and tiger,” Ahsan said.

Efforts will be made to relocate the tigers once the project is in place.

Meanwhile, Aziz said that about 1 million people in the adjoining areas of the Sundarbans depend on the forest for their livelihoods.

“Although the government declared a large portion of the mangrove as a reserve forest, we need to introduce a sustainable livelihood program for these locals. Otherwise, the tiger population can’t be increased,” he said.

UK PM says schools must open in September

Updated 6 min 22 sec ago

UK PM says schools must open in September

  • A study has warned that Britain risks a second wave of COVID-19 this winter if schools open without an improved test-and-trace system
  • The government wants all pupils to return to school by early September

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said reopening schools in September was a social, economic and moral imperative and insisted they would be able to operate safely despite the ongoing threat from the pandemic.
His comments follow a study earlier this month which warned that Britain risks a second wave of COVID-19 this winter twice as large as the initial outbreak if schools open without an improved test-and-trace system.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Johnson said restarting schools was a national priority. Schools would be the last places to close in future local lockdowns, he was quoted by another newspaper as telling a meeting on Thursday.
Schools in England closed in March during a national lockdown, except for the children of key workers, and reopened in June for a small number of pupils.
The government wants all pupils to return to school by early September in what Johnson has called a “national priority.”
“Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible,” Johnson wrote.
The economic costs for parents who cannot work if schools are shut are spiralling, and the country faces big problems if children miss out on education, the prime minister warned.
“This pandemic isn’t over, and the last thing any of us can afford to do is become complacent. But now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so,” he wrote.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported that he has ordered a public relations campaign to ensure schools open on time and told the meeting last week that they should be the last places to close behind restaurants, pubs and shops.