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Let’s turns the Sundarban into a sanctuary for the endangered Royal Bengal Tigers
The Royal Bengal Tiger, scientifically known as Panthera tigris, is on the brink of extinction. Dr. M. Monirul H. Khan, an associate professor of the Zoology department, Jahangirnagar University, also known as a tiger expert did his PhD on the Royal Bengal Tiger at Cambridge University, authored several books on wildlife and tigers including “Protected Areas of Bangladesh” and “Tigers in Mangrove,” and jointly worked to prepare the Bangladesh Tig er Action Plan 2009-2017. Dr MH Khan shared his views and opinion with Dhaka Courier on how we can save the tiger and the Sundarbans.
Dhaka Courier (DC): You are the only in the country who did the PhD on tigers from Cambridge University, what inspired you to do that?
Dr. M. Monirul H. Khan (MHK): I took my PhD thesis on the Royal Bengal Tigers mainly because of poor availability of the scientific information on tiger. A limited number of research was done in this regard, especially on the Panthera tigris. In addition, tiger is our national animal, and has an extra value to us which adds alternative economic value such as ecotourism could be accelerated if we can work on the tiger. Ecotourism has no consumerism cost as natural resources like animals, plants, birds and others constitute the eco-tourist spots or parks.
On the other hand, my father had a passionate interest in hunting, used to hunt tigers, peacocks at Madhupur Bhawaler Goar. I had the passion for wildlife as well as working for its reservation so when I got the Commonwealth Scholarship I did my PhD on Panthera tigris.
DC: As you are a tiger specialist, can you give any good news for us about the Royal Bengal Tiger as we see it is on the brink of extinction?
MHK: Despite frequent natural calamities, Sundarban still is in a good condition compared to other forests elsewhere in the world. Because Sundarban is located in the low-lying land level where tidal surges make permanent human habitation impossible; except Sundaree trees, all other trees have less economic value. Human beings fear the tiger’s jaw. As a result, our Sundarban has less man-made-damage lessening the threat of extinction to the tigers.
DC: On January 25, 2010, Environment and Forest Minister Hasan Mahmud unveiled the Tigers numbers ranging between 400 and 450, citing a track monitoring survey by the forest department and Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh while launching the country’s first Tiger Action Plan on January 25. What is your opinion in this aspect?
MHK: Different surveys on tiger counting outlined different number of tigers. The last official tiger count by the government was done in 2004 following the method of monitoring pug marksthat is not scientific; we think that tigers’ jaws are like human’ fingers, with no two fingers print alike. But the track of tigers’ jaws may be different based on the soil condition; the track on the muddy soil must be different from the track on the sandy soil even though both pug marks are of the same tiger.
I don’t think that we need to know the exact tiger’s numbers. What we need is that the tiger’s movement, its health conditions and others alike. If, in a certain place, the movement of the tiger is increased it shows that the tiger’s numbers is likely to increase.
Counting the tigers, we could use simple method of observing their ways, where they go frequently and others. Scientific method includes camera trapping method –setting remote camera and taking shots, radio tracking, it may face overlapping or double counting of a tiger, and counting tiger’s preys –simply it is counted as the total number of prey in a taken area divided by 500 is equal to the tigers numbers.
DC: In last nine years over 30 tigers were reportedly killed by villagers indicating that the villagers are continuously engaged in direct conflicts with the tigers, here what sorts of steps and measures other than the capacity building training programs should immediately be taken?
MHK: Tiger’s entrance into localities will not stop completely but can be reduced significantly. The villagers near the forest should not do their cattle grazing near the forest, sometimes they go into the forest which provokes tigers to come into the localities; cattle keeping places should be concrete; fencing the critical and dangerous spots and places which make tiger less move to the localities; and showing fear to the tigers using trained dogs and making harsh noise, not to kill the tigers.
DC: Do you think the government’s Forest Department is doing enough to decrease the number of tigers’ killing and guarding the mangrove as a sanctuary to the tigers?
MHK: Though it is late, the government has begun working in this regard. Global Tiger Day was observed countrywide, Bangladesh Tiger Action Plan 2009-2017 was prepared and there has also been extended helping hands to the other organisations and partners who are willing to work on the tiger.
DC: As the food crisis in the Sundarban is increasing day-by-day forcing the tigers to enter human habitations, what should immediately be done to resolve the increasing tiger’s food crisis?
MHK: Due to natural calamities, tigers’ food reservation are decreasing day by day, added to the deer poaching, which by definition means illegally. The government must immediately stop deer poaching.
DC: Is protecting the tigers linked with protecting others species of the Sundarban? If it does or not, how and why?
Dr MH Khan: Scientists call the tiger a flagship species, one that represents the whole ecological circle, and if it collapses the whole will collapse. Royal Bengal Tiger has the characteristics. We will have to protect the plants and trees of the Sundarban, which give sanctuary to the deer and boar which are food to the tigers. So if we save the tiger we would protect the Sundarban.
DC: Would you please explain some tiger-related terms like Tiger-Human Conflict (THC), prey poaching and etc?
MHK: THC refers to the clash and conflict between human and tigers no matter where it happened and when. It may happen in localities when tigers enter or in the remote jungle area when human falls victim to the tiger. Prey poaching mainly refers tothe illegal hunting or killing of deer’ and boar by human.
DC: Deforestation, degradation, adverse impact of climate change, environment pollution, infiltration of saline water and tidal surges are increasingly threatening biodiversity of the forest, here we have any opportunities to save our endangered tigers?
Dr MH Khan: To save our tigers as well as the Sundarban we will have to take both the short term and the long term initiatives.
Short term initiatives include strong legal bar on prey poaching, as deer’s meat fulfils about 80 percent of tiger’s food reservation. Poachers kill over 5,500 deer a year. Awareness among the villagers near the forest will have to be increased.
While long term initiatives may be adaptation to global warming as well as the sea-level rise. The mangrove forest was in Himalayan area near 2,000 years ago, shifted to the present location due to being adapted with the tidal surge and sea waves. Scientists predicted that sea-level is likely to rise by 7-8 mntres by the mid of this century, so, we should keep open and empty a landscape with a kilometre’s width in the south side of the forest when the water levels rise, the trees will naturally be planted in the open place and forest will grow up, gradually it will be widened.
DC: You worked with the team to prepare the Bangladesh Tiger Action Plan 2009-2017.
What were the vision and goals of the action plan and how much have been achieved since the beginning?
Dr MH Khan: The vision of the Action Plan is “Protected tiger landscapes in Bangladesh, where wild tigers thrive at optimum carrying capacities and which continue to provide essential ecological services to mankind.”
The goals of the Action Plan to address threats are to increase or stabilise the Sundarbans tiger population, maintain sufficient prey base to support the Sundarbans tiger population, maintain sufficient habitat to support the Sundarbans tiger and prey populations and assess the viability of tiger populations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
While the goals to address challenges are to improve conservation capacity in the Forest Department and mainstream tiger conservation into the GoB’s development agenda, improving law enforcement to ensure protection of tiger, prey, and habitat. Build capacity to implement awareness and education programmes, build capacity to conduct tiger conservation research and monitoring, and encouraging collaboration to support the FD in the implementation of the BTAP.
Action plan was taken but how we may benefit remains to be seen, because no initiative to implement the action plan are not taken. Implementation of the action plan is the need of the hour.
DC: Any advices and/or sayings to the tiger-loving Bangladeshi?
MHK: Creating an awareness is necessary at the all national levels among the students, and others, not only among the villagers who live near the villager keeping lives risky. Sundarbans and the Tiger make Bangladesh known to the people of other countries; everyone should begin working where he/she stands now. In addition, policy makers and the politicians must be aware in this regard as the nation soon will witness that the Sundarban has turned into a sanctuary to the endangered Royal Bengal Tigers.
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