July 6, 2009

Endangered Tigers Clash With Humans In Bangladesh

When two tigers made their way into a southeastern Bangladesh village, forest officials knew they had to act quickly to save the tigers' lives.

Similar instances have led to the endangered animals being beaten to death by villagers who feared for their lives.

When officials arrived in the village, the tigers had already been killed.

"Tigers go in and out of villages in the night but if they go in during the day, they never survive. The villagers beat them to death," said Aboni Bhusan Thakur, conservation officer for the Sundarbans mangrove forest.

One of the animals, a five-year-old male tiger, was attacked by villagers with spears and machetes, Thakur said.

An 18-year-old tigress was also killed by the villagers.

Police have arrested one man in the killing.

The situation is a common one in Bangladesh.  Since 2000, at least 14 tigers have been killed under similar circumstances, while conservationists believe the real number is well over 30.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List, fewer than 2,500 Bengal tigers are left in the world.  The highest concentration of those are in Bangladesh, where at least 200 live.

In 2004, a government census estimated that 440 Bengal tigers were living in the forests of Bangladesh.

According to one expert, if the beatings continue, the tiger population will quickly become extinct.

"If this brutal tradition goes on, the Bengal tiger population in Bangladesh will vanish in decades," said Professor Monirul Khan, of Dhaka's Jahangirnagar University.

"Tigers were in every forest in the country even 50 years back, but now they are only confined to the Sundarbans," he told the AFP.

The fall in population of traditional tiger prey in the Sundarbans, due to rapid deforestation, has been forcing the tigers to look for food elsewhere.
The Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site, lies on the delta of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra Rivers.

The area is the world's largest mangrove forest, covering 3,860 square miles across India and Bangladesh. 

According to Khan, the fragile ecosystem of the Sundarbans will collapse without the tiger.

"The whole food chain will collapse. So many species of plant and animals are at risk," he said.

Mohsinuzzaman Chowdhury, a wildlife expert, said the tiger beatings were on the rise because of cat attacking human instances, which have increased as populations move closer and closer to the forest.  

In the first six months of the year, 18 people were killed, while 21 were killed in 2008.

"These villagers collect honey, timber and do fishing deep inside the forest. Many are killed by tigers, which make them hostile towards the endangered animal," said Chowdhury.

Bangladesh will also become more exposed to cyclones if the mangroves disappear, he added.

According to experts, Cyclone Sidr, which killed 3,500 people in November 2007, could have been more severe if the Sundarbans hadn't cushioned the blow.

"The forest is still largely uninhabited because of fear of tigers," said Ainun Nishat, of the IUCN.

"If the tigers are gone, the fear factor would go and it would take only years to clear out the world's largest mangrove forest. Not only that, there will be no natural savior for this disaster-prone nation."


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