Getting the message across to all

Dhaka,  Wed,  20 September 2017
Published : 05 Aug 2017, 12:27:26
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Tiger conservation

Getting the message across to all

Enayetullah Khan
On July 4 last Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave away the Bangabandhu Award for Wildlife Conservation to the Village Tiger Response Team (VTRT). When a tiger strays into a village, the Village Tiger Response Team members send it back into the forest. These volunteers are respected as role models in their villages. There are 49 VTRT groups around all the four ranges in the Sundarbans, consisting of over 340 local men and women who volunteer to protect tigers and villagers along the edge of the forest. These teams were formed by TigerTeam, an initiative of WildTeam, a conservation organisation, dedicated to wildlife conservation in Bangladesh's part of the Sundarbans working, in particular, to conserve the Bengal tigers.

Members of the TigerTeam have chosen to devote their lives to save tigers of Bangladesh's Sundarbans. They do this because tigers are the guardians of the forest upon which they and their families depend. Before the TigerTeam started this work, the future was bleak for tigers. Whenever a tiger strayed into a village, people used to beat it to death. Poachers killed tigers with snares, guns, and poison. Villagers also suffered terribly, losing loved ones to tiger attacks. The real change came, when the community became involved in saving tigers, supported and empowered by the WildTeam.

The WildTeam's TigerTeam has provided a 24/7 in-forest emergency water ambulance service for tiger attack victims, supported by fellow villagers who risk their lives to retrieve the bodies of tiger victims from the forest. This service is called the Forest Tiger Response Team (FTRT). Besides giving first aid and transport services to people attacked by tigers inside the forest, sometimes they have to retrieve a body from the jaws of a tiger, risking their lives to make it safer for others and help the grieving families. The TigerTeam's work is a great example of why we believe that people are the solution and how we are acting fearlessly to change the game for nature. Since 2008, they have rescued more than 50 tiger victims and retrieved more than 100 dead bodies.

The TigerTeam has given the local people a crime hotline so that they can report poaching and any other wildlife crime. The TigerTeam has also created Tiger scouts to produce future conservation leaders from school students and to disseminate tiger conservation messages to the school students. Bagh Bondhu or Tiger Friends is another initiative of the TigerTeam to include local leaders to voluntarily raise awareness among the local community people about conservation of tigers.

Getting the message across to all

The WildTeam relies on thorough research to uncover the mysteries of the Sundarbans' tigers to find out how tigers live in this unique forest and what they need to survive. They also monitor changes in the tiger population every year, and are working on similar approaches to keep track of the deer population, tigers' main prey. To help design effective solutions, they carry out social research to understand what drives the human behaviours that threaten tigers, such as eating deer meat or killing stray tigers. In this way, they also measure the success of their campaigns to change these behaviours.

Under the leadership of the Bangladesh Forest Department, the WildTeam trained government forest guards on improved patrolling called SMART patrolling in Bangladesh's part of the Sundarbans through USAID's Bagh Activity. They also worked with other law enforcement agencies to fight poaching. The SMART patrolling brought a huge success and over 242 arrests were made in the last two years.

As an explicit sign of the commitment of our government to conserve tigers, Sheikh Hasina, the Hon'ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh, herself showed her commitment by holding the pledge card #standfortigers. This was not the only time she expressed her commitment. In November 2010, at the world's first tiger summit St Petersburg International Forum on Tiger Conservation, Russia, the Hon'ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh expressed her government's determination to strive to double the number of wild tigers across their range by 2022 on the basis of the tiger population. And to achieve that goal she and her government are working relentlessly. We are very hopeful as our hon'ble Prime Minister stated in that summit that the tigers protect the Sundarbans, while the Sundarbans saves Bangladesh. She also gave assurance that her government would do everything to protect the tigers. It shows that our government's political commitment is very firm and hopefully we could achieve our goal.

Until 2010 the global tiger population was 3200. As per 2010's commitments of the leaders of all tiger range countries, including Bangladesh, all governments increased their effort and as a result in 2016 the global tiger population increased to 3,890 (data published in the 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, 2016, New Delhi, India.) There were no good news during the last 100 years but now we've good news as the tiger population has increased.

The government of Bangladesh, especially the Hon'ble Prime Minister, deserves our heart-felt thanks for awarding the Bangabandhu Award for Wildlife Conservation 2017 to the Village Tiger Response Team (VTRT), formerly known as the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh. It is now considered brave to save rather than kill a tiger!

Enayetullah Khan is the chairman of WildTeam and the chief editor of Dhaka Courier and UNB
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