Special Feature

The days of the Tiger

17 Aug,2015


BdChronicle Special:


World Tiger Day, that falls every year on July 29 under an initiative by 13 Tiger range countries where this majestic creature still roams freely in the wild, arrived this year bearing the most gutting news imaginable to a whole host of individuals and organisations who have dedicated themselves to saving the Royal Bengal Tiger from extinction.

The Forest Department finally got around to commissioning a modern tiger census in the Sundarbans, making use over one whole year of hidden cameras strategically positioned along the forest corridors frequented by the big cat. The footage from some 270 points evenly spread across three blocks was then poured over by experts to try and identify each individual tiger inhabiting the area. Wildlife experts almost all agree the camera-trapping method is much more scientific than going by pugmarks.
The last pugmark census yielded a scarcely-believable figure of 440 Royal Bengals roaming our 6,000 sq. km. chunk of the world’s biggest mangrove forest. To be fair, enough voices demurred at the time to prevent any sort of complacency among conservationists. The imperative was another census, that at long last has been completed. Yet nothing could have prepared us for the body-blow contained in its report, that was released as part of the Environment Ministry’s programmes to observe the Day of the Tiger.
To think that the magnificent beast that has guarded this lowland against the rising sea, holding down the coast like a dogged warrior, only doing so with a grace and ferocity that surpass anything man, machine or even Mother have managed to produce and reproduce; today, here in our neck of the woods, their number may be down to double-figures. Right down to 83, barely 8-10 groups isolated from each other, and at the upper limit, a maximum of 132. The mean of 106 will serve as the report’s figure for the current population.
As distressing as the revelation may be to conservationists, signalling the end of the road in Bangladesh’s fight to save the tiger, I would still say: you underestimate the tiger at your peril. Funding channels tend to start drying up, as punters redirect finance to supposedly more ‘worthy’ causes. Some degree of tension is inevitable. Yet there are species that have fought back from even worse positions – for example the red wolf in North America, that dropped well below 100 in the 1950s. The recovery called for patience, and a good bit of imagination as well on the part of the authorities. As we enter what is sure to be a critical juncture in the tiger’s story, let us endeavour to apply the same, so that the land, peoples and cultures of this little corner of the subcontinent remain forever in awe, and forever terrified by the tiger.

More Special Feature