Khokon Gazi and Haren Mondol, two fishermen of Golakhali village of Satkhira district got the fright of their lives when they saw a 10-foot tiger sitting under a bush near a shrimp enclosure. The tiger didn’t seem inclined to attack, so they gradually edged away and ran back to their village.
The incident that took place on Sunday morning unleashed a chain of events that is being heralded as a breakthrough for tiger conservation in Bangladesh. Instead of beating the tiger to death, as is usually the case in the Sundarbans villages, the villagers of Golakhali called the local Village Tiger Response Team (VTRT) to take care of the tiger.
In the past, experts say, local people would probably have shot or beaten the tiger to death. Professor Dr. Md. Anwarul Islam, Chief Executive, Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB) said: “This is an important step forward. Villagers in the Sundarbans areas where there is tiger human conflict often view the tiger as an enemy. We have tried to raise awareness that the tiger is an asset and I think we are seeing the fruits of that.”
Enayetullah Khan, chairman of WTB, also hailed this as a landmark in the battle to protect the endangered cats. “It is rare for a tiger to escape alive after straying into one of the villages bordering the Sundarbans mangrove forests,” he said. “All credit goes to the villagers, the forest department and the VTRT.”
The tiger became weak after passing two days without any food at Golakhali in the upazila, said Toufiqul Islam, a forest official of Satkhira.
The people of Golakhali, Kalinchi and Tengrakhali areas have been passing time with great anxiety due to the presence of the tiger in their locality. Most of them preferred to stay inside their homes in fear of the tiger, said locals.
It was suspected that the male tiger is sick. On information, a team of forest department and Tiger Response Team supervised by WTB rushed to the spot around 8:00am and blasted over 100 crackers and fired 25 blank shots to send it back to forest.
As the members of forest department failed to send the tiger back to Sundarbans, they surrounded the tiger with a net enclosure, resisting it from entering the village. The tiger went majestically back to the forest on Monday around 11 am, locals said.
Conservationists say the villagers were aware of a new tiger initiative and co-operated with the local tiger response team. They insist that local participation is a key component in any tiger conservation effort.
“Human-animal conflicts occur very often in that region. So, we thought that if we don’t involve the local people it will be difficult to conserve the tigers,” Prof Islam of WTB said.
Wildlife officials hoped that the latest incident will encourage more villagers to co-operate with the tiger response teams and the forest department.
The tiger response teams were given more training and equipment last year and many villages also have also set up local groups.
The training programmes were organized by the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh.
The Sundarbans mangrove forests which stretch between Bangladesh and India are one of the last refuges of the critically endangered Royal Bengal tiger.
Tigers are an endangered species. There are only about 3,500 left in the wild worldwide – less than one third of them breeding females.
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