Data analysis of the ongoing census in the Sundarbans suggests that the number of Bengal Tigers in the forest's Bangladesh part might have come down to half of what it was 10 years ago.
The 2004 Bangladesh-India joint tiger pugmark survey in the Sundarbans put the number at 419.
India has recently completed its part of the camera trapping census that began in May last year and estimates the number of the majestic breed of tigers at 81-90 inside its territories. The number was 232 in 2004.
In Bangladesh, the Forest Department has divided the Sundarbans in three blocks: Katka-Kachikhali (East), Nilkamal area and Goalkhali-Koikhali. Census in the first and the third blocks has been completed. The department will start working in the other block in November. Besides, it would also conduct a canal survey to see the density of pugmarks of the national animal.
“Though the census is not complete yet, analysis of the data collected from the two blocks suggests the number of tigers would be less than 200 in the Bangladesh part of the Sundarbans,” said a forest department official.
In the camera trapping census, two video cameras are placed face-to-face on two sides of the corridors used by tigers. Later, experts examine the tigers' images captured in the cameras and determine the number of the royal beasts by analysing their stripes. Each tiger has a unique set of stripes just like the finger prints of humans.
A total of 270 cameras have been set up in the three blocks, each having 90 cameras at 45 points.
Animal ecologists and conservation biologists consider this as one of the most scientific methods of Tiger census.
“The pugmark survey was not a scientific method and it overestimated the number of tigers. In the Indian part of the Sundarbans, 80 to 90 tigers were found in the latest census,” said Prof Yadvendradev Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India. Jhala is working as an expert in the Bangladesh census as well.
According to the 2004 survey, the world's largest mangrove forest that sprawls over an area of 6,000sqkm in Bangladesh and around 4,000sqkm in India was home to 668 Bengal Tigers.
However, Prof Jhala, who attended the 2nd Global Tiger Stocktaking Conference 2014 in Dhaka that ended yesterday, held it more important to determine the health of the forest than determining the number of tigers.
“You see, maybe there are two hundred tigers in the forest. But we need to see whether the number is decreasing or sustaining. If the number decreases, we have reasons to be worried. But ... if it sustains, then it's fine.”
He, however, did not disclose the number of tigers in the two blocks already surveyed in Bangladesh.
Asked about the impact of Rampal power plant project on the Sundarbans, Jhala said it would hamper the tiger conservation programme as continuous movement of water vessels in the rivers bordering the mangrove forest would affect wildlife and their movement across the rivers.
A forest department official, who recently did his diploma from the Wildlife Institute of India and was a student of Prof Jhala, told The Daily Star it was discussed in one of their classes that the number of tigers in Bangladesh could be as small as 130.
Under the Strengthening Regional Co-operation for Wildlife Protection Project of the World Bank, the ongoing census is scheduled to be completed in March 2015.
POOR CONSERVATION ATTEMPTS
Bengal tigers roamed in 17 districts of Bangladesh only a century ago but now the Sundarbans is the lone habitat for the majestic beasts in the country.
A new report of the Global Tigers Initiatives (GTI) shows Bangladesh is lagging far behind other neighbouring tiger range countries, including India, Nepal and Bhutan in conversation activities.
The report released during the Global Tiger Stocktaking Conference in Dhaka was prepared based on nine activities regarding tiger conservation. Among the 13 tiger range countries, Bangladesh could not fulfil any of the targets. In fact, the country that hosted the conference could not even show any updated data about the number of tigers in the country.