Tiger poaching new threat to Sunderbans

Organized poaching of tiger and deer has emerged as a new phenomenon for the Sunderbans wildlife extinction, a conservation activist said on Tuesday, asking government to take immediate steps to protect the Bengal cat, their habitat and food sources.

    "Tiger poaching is nothing new in the world, but this is comparatively a new phenomenon in Bangladesh, from where tigers are being smuggled to China and some other South Asian countries where rich people enjoy tiger meat and bone soup as a strong means of traditional medicine to protect their health," Dr M Anwarul Islam, Chief executive Officer of WildTeam, a non-profit, tells a dialogue in Dhaka.

    Environment Minister Anwar Hossain Manju attended it as the chief guest, while chief forest conservator (CCF) M Yunus Ali, leading environmentalist Dr Atiq Rahman and USAID officials also spoke.

    "According to the findings from different census, Bangladesh has hardly a tiger population of 106-500," says Dr Islam, who identifies a number of factors that led to illegal poaching of tiger and deer from the Sunderbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world.

    "Even sitting in Dhaka you can enjoy deer meat. The deer meat is cheaper than the beef in areas around the forest," he points out, adding poor patrol by law enforcers and their logistical limitation have helped the criminals to go their business unchallenged.

    The minister says the over dependence of people on the forest has led to malpractices by the communities and the criminals in the reserve forest, which has been declared the UNESCO Heritage Site early last decade. Dacoits and poachers at times, Manju says, are more powerful than the law enforcement agencies.

    He, however, says the government has attached priority to the areas that remained unattended or poorly attended, and the Sunderbans are one of those.

He also expresses his high hope that a partnership programme, being run by USAID and the Government of Bangladesh, would yield a positive result for the protection of Sunderbans wildlife and its ecosystem.

    According to the USAID, it has earmarked 13 million US Dollar for the protection of Royal Bengal Tiger under a special project. Massive awareness creation is targeted under the project -USAID Bagh Activity- for which a caravan (Tiger Bus) has been made ready to touch 100 destinations across Bangladesh. The bus has already drawn attention from crowd and more than 3,000 people visited it within one-and-a-half hour time last week.

    The CCF says Thailand and Nepal have been able to bring the poaching of tiger to zero level after hard struggles over years. He says Bangladesh is not sitting idle as well. He, however, acknowledges that the forest officials and the law enforcers lack modern equipment (boat, arms and logistics) to chase the criminals in the Sunderbans.

    Dr Atiq Rahman says poachers use much modern boat and engine. Once chased, he says, the poachers rush towards the bay and the law enforcers have to return to shore empty as they are not adequately equipped to go to the deep sea and nab the criminals. He cites an example and says 17 police stations are located around Sunderbans but all of them are poorly resourced.

He also suggests transborder cooperation to protect the endangered species.

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