Tiger population rising in Sundarbans

Royal Bengal TigersFile photo

The population of Royal Bengal Tigers which declined significantly over the last decade, has started rising in parts of the Sundarbans in Khulna. Only two tigers were spotted in an area of nearly 2,000 square kilometres in the Sundarbans during the survey last time. However, the numbers rose to 10 to 15 in the latest survey started this year. Several tiger families with two children were spotted. The population of deer, the prime food for the tigers in the region, has also increased as compared to the past.

This information was obtained from the survey conducted in an area of around 4,000 square kilometres in the Sundarbans by the forest department. According to the survey conducting team, tigers are always spotted in parts of the Sundarbans in Satkhira. The number of tigers spotted there has also increased. The number of tiger calves has almost doubled as compared to last year. It is being assumed that, tiger population may increase by some 20 to 30 per cent overall as compared to last year.

Sources in the forest department say one of the prime targets of the survey this year is to increase tiger population in areas such as Khulna, where the number of tigers is less. They planned to shift tigers from areas with high numbers of tigers and release them in Khulna. However, the number of tigers spotted in Khulna has already increased. So they are considering changing the goal of the survey to protecting the existing tiger population in Khulna.

Prothom Alo spoke to Rajvinder Jala, chief consultant of the tiger census of 2015 conducted in India and Wildlife Institute of India, regarding the ongoing survey. He said the main food of the tigers in the Sundarbans is deer. The number of tigers increases if the deer population increases. Besides, initiatives to prevent tigers from the hands of the poachers might also play a role behind the rise of tiger population.

The survey is being conducted dividing the parts of the Sundarbans in Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira into four parts. A total of 1,200 cameras have been set up at different places of the forest to conduct the survey. These cameras automatically capture photos whenever a tiger comes in front.

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The pattern of stripes on the body of tigers varies depending on the physical structure. The patterns of the stripes are used to determine the number of tigers. The Royal Bengal Tigers drink water from the canals in the Sundarbans and leave pugmarks on the banks. The pugmarks also vary based on the type of tigers. Pugmarks are also used in tiger census.

The survey monitored some 1,200 canals in the forest. During the previous surveys, the survey conducting teams found pugmarks of one tiger in every two-kilometre area on both sides of the canals. However, pugmarks of one tiger were found in every one-kilometre area on both sides of the canals this year, which indicates the rise in tiger population in the Sundarbans.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, chief conservator of forests Amir Hossain said, “We have introduced a smart security system to protect the tigers. Besides, most of the bandits who were involved in tiger killing and other criminal activities have surrendered. Apart from that, the overall conservation management also has led to the rise in tiger population.”

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According to the forest department, the bandits used to hunt tigers on a regular basis. However, the tigers are getting protection now as a result of enhanced joint drives and patrols. The reproduction rate of tigers has also increased. From 2010 to 2018, around four to five were killed in tiger attacks on average. The number declined to two in the last two years. They were killed while doing something in the forest or extracting honey. Many of the people, who were killed in tiger attacks, were members of the teams intruding the forest illegally.

The forest department says the tiger census is being conducted under the tiger reservation project. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change officially approved the project on 23 March last year. The project includes shifting tigers within the Sundarbans, attaching satellite collars on the bodies of at least two tigers for monitoring, diagnosis of tiger diseases and parasitic infection and data collection and analysis.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, project director Mohsin Hossain said, “The entire survey will be finished before the International Tigers Day on 29 July. We will publish the final result of the project by then.”

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The first ever tiger census of the country was jointly conducted by the Forest Department and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The survey conducted on the basis of pugmarks, spotted 440 Royal Bengal Tigers. The first ever modern method of tiger census was conducted in 2015. It used camera traps and pugmarks to determine the number of tigers.

According to the forest department, the size of the part of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh is 6,017 square kilometres, including 4,832 square kilometres of forestland and 1,185 square kilometres of wetlands.

According to the tiger census of 2015, the number of tigers was 106 at the time, which increased to 114 in 2018.

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Speaking regarding this to Prothom Alo, Abdul Aziz, a key member of the tiger census team and professor at the zoology department at the Jahangir University said, “Some 114 tigers were found during the survey. The number of tigers can be increased to 150 considering the size of the forest and availability of food. We have to continue the initiatives taken up to protect the tigers.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu