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.