May 11, 2010

Tiger Poachers To Face Harsher Prison Sentences

Tiger poachers in Bangladesh could soon face harsher prison sentences once new amendments to the existing poaching laws take effect, which is primarily aimed at protecting the critically endangered Bengal tiger, an official said on Monday.

The existing law, which dates back to 1974, sets the maximum penalty for poaching or smuggling to a fine of 30 US dollars (2,000 taka) and a two-year prison term. The current laws are too compassionate to preserve the country's endangered big game populations, said the government's top conservation official.

"We are now amending the law to fight poachers who have become increasingly sophisticated and are now often armed. They must be stopped," Tapan Kumar Dey told AFP.

Dey said the government has prepared the new Bangladesh Wildlife Preservation Act. The new act could impose stiffer penalties on poachers, which include a maximum sentence of life in prison and a fine up to 4,500 US dollars (300,000 taka).

The law is expected to be approved later this month by the cabinet, and then be sent to parliament for final approval, Dey added.

The new law also boosts protection efforts for the nation's ancient forests.

Bangladesh has seen more than 13 species go extinct in the past 40 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. More than 100 species are now endangered or critically endangered in the country.

During the same 40-year period, the human population has nearly tripled. The sharp increase in human populations also means more forest is being destroyed for human habitation. Current forest cover in Bangladesh is now only 10 percent of the land mass, which results in more frequent encounters between humans and animals, experts say.

Bengal tigers, which were once found all around the country 50 years ago, are now confined to the Sunderbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. Experts warn that only 200 big cats are left in the wild, down more than 50% from 2004.

Poaching is the main threat to the endangered Bengal tiger, but mob beatings by villagers who have been traditionally hostile to the tigers also are contributing to the decline.