Saturday, July 30, 2011

Royal Bengal Tigers: The numbers game

A book being launched to mark the World Tiger Day on July 29 has created somewhat of a controversy by claiming that government statistics on tiger population living in the Sundarbans are grossly overstated. The author is of the opinion that the government’s method of calculating tiger population living in Bangladesh’s portion of the Sundarbans relies on outdated methods, i.e. using pugmarks as a measurement of number of tigers present in the vicinity of the mangrove forest often produces misleading figures. These claims however are hotly contested by government conservation experts who state that the census carried out by the state follows internationally recognised methods that are scientifically proven. Whatever may be the case, there is no denying that the tiger population is in grave danger in Bangladesh. The reasons for their steady demise are many. These majestic creatures are being hunted down to feed the demands for an illicit wildlife trade. Tiger parts are in high demand by traditional medicine practitioners all across Asia, particularly in China.  According to international statistics, the illegal trade in tiger parts that include bones is estimated to be worth around $6 billion per annum.

Apart from poaching, the other main reason for the decline in tiger numbers is the loss of habitat and tiger prey. Tigers traditionally feed on deer and wild pigs, both of which are being killed at an alarming rate. With their traditional prey numbers dwindling and as human encroachment into traditional tiger territory increases, the close proximity between man and tiger inevitably leads the tiger to change its eating habits and start attacking livestock. This brings the tiger into direct conflict with human settlements, and in most cases it is the tiger that pays the final price.

Against this backdrop, the government in a concerted effort with other nations has stepped up efforts to save the tigers. As often is the case, forest guards are ill equipped to counter poachers. A coordinated effort with India, that includes a joint strike force that will essentially operate on both sides of the international border, with greater integration by means of sharing intelligence and unit members being sufficiently and adequately armed and equipped with requisite training and logistics including, boats, vehicles and tranquiliser guns, should help turn the tide against the indiscriminate killing of tigers. Simultaneously, the programme hopes to include the general populace of eighty villages living in primarily what may be considered tiger country in an effort to minimize human-tiger confrontations that result, more often than not, in tiger fatalities.