Sad demise of a majestic Bengal

Tiger and some related questions

killed tiger
Tiger is the largest of the wild cats of the world. Siberian subspecies of tiger weighs about 50 kg more than the lion. We as a nation must be proud to have Bengal Tiger within our jurisdiction. Moreover it is our national animal. About a century back tigers were present almost in 50 per cent land of Bangladesh, inclusive of all forests. Due to an overwhelming increase in human population, wholesale destruction of reserved and private forests, conversion of jungle-covered fallow areas and forested lands into agricultural fields and human habitations the infamous tiger of Bangladesh has been corned into the confines of the Sundarbans

We have no tiger alive either in the Sal-Gozari or mixed-evergreen and evergreen forests of the revenue divisions of Chittagong and Sylhet. In the entire range of distribution of the tiger from Bali in Indonesia to Vladivostok in Russia tiger never lived permanently in any mangrove forest but the Sundarbans of Bangladesh and India. Cat scientists conjecture that the tiger has been forced to live inside waterlogged Sundarbans because they cannot migrate to the Sal and evergreen forests of north and eastern parts of West Bengal of India and Bangladesh. There is a mammoth settlement of human beings from Khulna and 24 Parganas districts to Panchagarh and Jalpaiguri-Shiliguri districts of Bangladesh and India.

So, a population of 400 to 600 tigers within the Sundarbans must remain within this mangrove forest up to the time they are forced to extinction. However, tigers, like all other cats are very altruistic, curious, playful and adventurous. This inborn habit and competition for home range occasionally force a juvenile or an old tiger to venture into tiger hostile habitats such as the human habitations bordering the entire east, north and western boundaries of the Sundarbans.

On May 28, 2003, a full grown majestic male Bengal Tiger did the same and crossed a human habitation of some 5km in one night and reached a village called Nolbunia under Chandpai Range. This particular tiger was within the forested areas under the Dhansagar Forest Station of the Chandpai Forest Range. The existence of the tiger near the village was known to the forest officials. I presume it did stray a few times into the village bordering the forest. As the daylight broke on fateful Tuesday the tiger was finding it difficult to hide its massive body in the thickets of Nolbunia. Villagers spotted it and raised hue and cry and in the melee the tiger attacked and mauled a few villagers before taking shelter inside a sitting room of a villager.

The whole village folk of several hundred people gathered with machetes, crowbars, choppers and other homemade weapons and killed the tiger in no time. The forest officials had the information and the ranger from Chandpai rushed to the spot but only after the tiger was dead. It was a rare opportunity for the villagers to kill and touch a tiger. Some started removing beautiful moustache, hairs from the tail and nail clippings thinking that these might have aphrodisiac values or simply to keep these as mementos

As a simple village living folks the villagers did the right thing. They killed a trespasser which is their traditional enemy. However, from the wildlife conservation point of view this was simply miserable

The custodians of the Sundarbans forest, the protector of the wildlife as per the Bangladesh Wildlife Preservation Act of 1974, the forest department has failed in saving a protected and internationally declared endangered species. It is easy to blame the FD for all failures but we shall have to have consensus to stop such future happenings

Once it is known that a tiger started straying into the villages the reason for doing so must be singled out and removed. Else natural food for the tiger, such as spotted deer shall have to be procured, netted, trapped or obtained from other captive breeding places and wild boar specimens and that are to be placed inside the forest away from the villages. This must be within the home range of the tiger in question.

Villagers must be stopped from letting their cattle graze inside or at the edge of the Sundarbans where tiger roams freely. Forest department should establish night patrol and allow firing of a few occasional shots aimed at the forest. It can have other tiger scaring device such as recording roars of a tiger and placing the sound in the middle of the forest and playing it once in a while. This will attract the tiger near the source of the sound and away from the village.

Well built tiger cage with trap door to be fixed with live bait to catch such a stray tiger from the village and then transport the same and release it back to nature within the home range from where it had originally misadventured

FD should train its manpower in handling tranquillising gun and blow pipes along with the use of safe anaesthetic drug such as Ketamine to dirt a tiger trapped in a village. Such a tranquillised/darted tiger must be kept in a purpose-built special transport cage before releasing back to the nature or in its previous home range. In this regard a 2-day training programme should be organised by the FD for all its manpower up to the station officer level working in the Sundarbans forest. The training should include lectures on theoretical background about the features of tigers followed by practical demonstration of use of gun and blow pipe on the tiger along with tranquillising agents.

Each tiger caught must be tagged or a computer chip inserted in the body so that such specimens can be identified. If a particular tiger is repeatedly straying into human habitation then it should be withdrawn from the forest and kept in a rehabilitation centre within the Sundarbans, or to a captive breeding centre elsewhere, wildlife safari park such as Dulahazra with proper safety for the tiger and the people.

If suitable place is not found outside the Sundarbans the FD should try locating an island within the Sundarbans with plenty of deer and wild boar but free from a resident tiger. A tiger can be released in such an island provided FD can provide security for the tiger released from the attack of other tigers occurring in the neighboruing islands at least for the first week or so when introduced tiger will settle. FD should fix electrically charged artificially made human and cattle body/statue along the boundary of the Sundarbans where tigers usually roam freely. The shock a tiger will receive by attacking such models would normally not dare attacking either people or cattle in the near future. Such experiments have been made in the 24 Parganas district of West Bengal in India.

About 60-70 years back people in greater Sylhet and Karimganj (under Assam in India) districts used to catch tiger with nets. FD should get some people from Sylhet and try the old art and train the villagers along the Sundarbans to catch a tiger with net instead of killing it. For such a catch they can even be rewarded instead of punished under the Bangladesh Wildlife Preservation Act. FD must device a long term policy of monitoring movements of tiger along the boundaries of the Sundarbans through radio tracking method and have a programme of tiger rehabilitation.

At the same time government must make it compulsory for FD to pay compensation to villagers mauled or killed by a tiger. FD must also pay compensation for the loss of any cattle due to a tiger attack. Indian government is doing it for many years. Why our government won't do it? After all both forest and wild animals belong to our government as per the Bangladesh Wildlife Act of 1974. Since people are punished for cutting trees so the people must be compensated when they or their domesticated animals are mauled or killed by government-owned tigers.

Government must involve NGOs to work out a plan to introduce a kind of insurance policies for all those people who will enter Sundarbans for their livelihood, for government work, research works, etc., with government permission so that they get full life security as per the standard rates of the national insurance policies prevailing in the country.

In case a tiger is accidentally killed by villagers all efforts must be made that every part of the tiger is studied carefully so that we can get maximum information out of a dead tiger. This should involve preserving all the soft internal organs in formalin or other medium so that these can be studied under microscope in a laboratory for determining the health, age and abnormalities, if any, in the body of a dead tiger. All external parts need to be studied as well. These could give indication whether the tiger had any defective tooth, jawbone, paws, eyes, ears, etc. The number of bodies of tigers killed by people during the past three years could have given sufficient scientific material for writing a few masters' theses and provided a store house of knowledge regarding wild tigers. These could lead to conclusion as to what the tigers ate in the wild, whether salt water had any impact on the body of the tiger, what was the condition of the stomach, liver, pancreas, spleen, large and small intestine, etc.

Source: Dr. Reza Khan , The Daily Star, July 4, 2003

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