Tiger Population in Sundarbans Getting Destroyed
It is necessary to take proper steps to protect the tiger population dwindling at a menacingly fast pace, writes M R Rousseau
THERE is bad news from the country’s lone mangrove forest area in the southeastern parts of Bangladesh along the coastal belt of the Bay of Bengal. News reports have appeared in a section of the national press to the effect that forest resources, including the wildlife, along the area are dwindling inexorably and fast owing to the actions of some profit-hungry businessmen and traders-with strong, if questionable, links with elements across the border.
One of the largest mangrove forests of today’s world, the Sundarbans of Bangladesh, has a total area of 5,772.85 square kilometres. Of this, nearly 70 per cent (4,106.85) square kilometres comprise forest lands. The remaining lands comprise water bodies like rivers, canals and channels.
Authentic books have it that tiger, the largest member of the cat family, lives mostly in Asia and belongs to the same genus as the lion, leopard and the jaguar. Two major sub-species are the Siberian (Amur) tiger and what is commonly known as the Indian Royal Bengal tiger. The modern tiger is thought to have originated from northern Asia during the Pleistocene epoch (1.6 million to 10,000 years ago).
Spread southward thereafter, crossing the Himalayas only about 10,000 years ago, the Royal Bengal tiger, which is about three meters (10 feet) long, including the tail, and usually weighs 180 to 250 kilograms (400 to 569 pounds), is found on the mainland of southeastern Asia and in central and southern India. Its coat lies flatter than that of the Siberian tiger, the tawny colour is richer and the stripes are darker, books point out.
The tiger is usually a solitary animal, males and females coming together only at mating time, to share a kill, or, to drink and rest at watery holes in areas with limited water. Tigers are very good swimmers, often taking to the waters to cool off. The litter numbers one to six cubs, which are helpless when born and stay with the mother into their second year. Only one or two of the cubs survive the first two years of their lives.
The diet of the Royal Bengal tiger is varied, ranging from deer to cattle to frogs and fish; carrion is also eaten. Tigers hunt at night, stalking their prey before they pounce. They use their sharp retractable claws to grasp their quarry and their strong teeth to deliver a fatal bite to the neck.
The Royal Bengal tiger inhabits grassy or swampy areas and forests, where it is well camouflaged by its colouration. Tigers are territorial and the male’s large territory includes the territories of two females. These tigers, especially the Royal Bengal tigers, are an endangered species today.
Environmentalists and tiger watchers have launched quite a few movements for saving the tiger around the world. These activists have repeatedly pointed out that their numbers have dwindled because of heavy human predation-they are hunted for skin bones (thought to have healing powers in Chinese medicine)-and habitat destruction. The estimated world population of tigers in wild ranges between 4,000 and 5,000.
News reports have been appearing on the pages of national dailies for last few years expressing concerns of relevant and responsible circles, especially about the endangered wildlife species of the great Sundarbans. It has been reported that a section of the local people in collusion with forest department personnel are involved in ‘hunting’ wildlife species with the aim of selling their skin at lucrative prices to ‘traders’ of unknown origins.
Environmentalists of the country, who usually attach the utmost importance to the cause of existence of adequate greenery and vegetation for the sake of ecological balance of a given region or a country, have time and again expressed concern at what appears like ‘free-style plundering’ of forest resources by a section of corrupt people in collaboration with the forest officials and lower-ranking staffers. A section of these elements have got involved in hunting the prized Royal Bengal tigers of the Sundarbans.
According to unofficial sources, the size of the Royal Bengal tiger population in the Sundarbans has touched the level of 400 only, with as many as 40 tigers, on an average, being killed in the area annually. The environment and forest minister of the erstwhile government had told the seventh parliament that the number of tigers in the Sundarbans area happened to be 362. Tisa McGregor, a British specialist, estimated the population of tigers in the Sundarbans in the neighbourhood of 200 in the year 1999.
The annual rate of ‘destruction’ of the tiger population of the Sundarbans was reported in a joint planning report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in the year 2000. Had this estimate been true and accurate, then the Sundarbans would have become almost tiger-less by now.
One estimate shows that the total world population of the Royal Bengal tiger is in the region of 7000 only. The authorities concerned are yet to take adequate measures to save the forest resources and wildlife population of the area, even though the Sundarbans have been declared as one of the ‘World Heritage Sites’.
Yet another estimate says that the ‘corrupt’ elements in and around the Sundarbans have killed at least 650 Royal Bengal tigers during the last one decade. Local people have also pointed out that corrupt elements were also out to make the tiger population totally extinct because of the fact that tiger skin, limbs and bones usually fetch lucrative amounts, including part of them in the shape of foreign exchange. The price of a piece of tiger skin is said to be in the neighbourhood of Tk. Four to Tk. Six lakhs. It is gathered that the flesh of tiger is also sold at attractive prices to people who produce sex stimulants at home and abroad.
Whatever is the size of tiger population on the Bangladesh side of the Sundarbans, it is half the number of those still alive in the Indian part of the Sundarbans-although the size of the former is twice as big as that of the latter. A large segment of the Sundarbans has already been rendered deforested by the local people, who have been bringing increasing portions of the forestland under cultivation. These areas that formed parts of the deep forests 12 years ago have now been turned into human settlements and cultivable lands through deliberate, human actions.
Local people tend to hold the officers and staffers responsible for this inexorable process of deforestation of the Sundarbans at the present, incredibly fast rate. Locals also hint that lower level staffers and the forestry department officials have to earn money through questionable means, because they usually get their postings on payment of huge sums of money to appropriate authorities. Once getting their, postings at the ‘El Dora do’-the land of fabulous riches-they try their best to retrieve their already made investments.
The destroyers of the tiger population and the forest resources of the Sundarbans, however, are quite afraid of the ferocious Royal Bengal tiger, but for whose existence many more of the rare species of the animals of the Sundarbans would have been totally extinct by now.
Most of the rainforest animals are adapted to live in the trees. The clawed feet of iguanas and lizards enable them to climb trees in search of food. Many flying animals, such as birds, bats and insects are found in these forests. About 200 species of mammals are there in Bangladesh-most of whom live in the Sundarbans area.
The Sundarbans-literally meaning the ‘forests beautiful’-are more noted as the home of the Royal Bengal tiger.
One remembers that two separate projects styled the Tiger project and the Tiger Project of the Sundarbans had been adopted with a view to saving Royal Bengal tigers. Both these projects have remained shelved since long and nobody seems to know when, if at all, these projects would be taken up again for implementation.
Reports showed that at least four tigers had been killed in the Sundarbans in the year 2000. Staffers of the forestry department retrieved one tiger skin from inside the forests that year. Forestry department sources indicated at least 34 tigers had been killed between 1986 and 1999 in the forest area. These sources also pointed out that at least seven Royal Bengal tigers had got killed during the cyclonic storm of November 29 of 1988. Forestry department sources also underlined the need for speedy, motorised boats, firearms for the Rangers and staffers, wireless sets and adequate trained manpower to ensure preservation of wildlife from the hands of the greedy and powerful but corrupt quarters.
These steps are all more urgent in view of the recent reports published by the national dailies, both Bangla and English. Reports indicate that the Royal Bengal tiger population of the Sundarbans, which stretches along the south-eastern parts of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, is dwindling at a menacingly fast pace.

Source: The Financial Express, 11 October, 2001