Human overreliance on Sundarbans forest threatens Royal Bengal Tigers

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Excessive dependence of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi coastal residents on the Sundarbans has endangered the existence of the Royal Bengal Tigers in the world’s largest mangrove forest.

After losing their livelihoods from agriculture due to the impact of climate change, thousands of remote people have been forced to depend on the world heritage site.

They go to the forest at random, with no professional training on how to earn resources from the big natural forest, which is the main habitat of the Bengal tigers.

“For many generations, we were farmers and subsisted on land agriculture. But salinity has ruined most of our croplands. Now, our only source of income is going to the Sundarbans and collecting honey, woods, and crabs,” Billal Hossain, 50, a resident of a remote area of Gabura near the Sundarbans in the southwestern border district of Satkhira, told Anadolu Agency.

Hossain, a father of two children, made the comments on International Tiger Day, which is being observed on Friday to promote awareness of tiger conservation.

He added that some family members whose loved ones have been prey to Bengal Tigers while working in the jungle are enraged by the animal and are trying to kill tigers when they visit the area in quest of food.

However, some criminals are eager to shoot tigers since the skin of the hunting animal is highly expensive, Hossain said, adding that the number of people who rely on the Sundarbans is growing by the day.

After 20 years of investigation, local police nabbed a suspected killer of 70 endangered tigers last May.

During a large-scale operation, this January, the forest department’s security forces apprehended 10 poachers and collected 78 kilograms (172 pounds) of venison, 10 deerskins, and a dead deer.

Back to agriculture

Ashim Mridha, a local union council chairman in Satkhira, told Anadolu Agency: “With government support, we’re trying to minimize the salinity of croplands through rain-harvesting agriculture.”

Their goal is to wean a considerable number of coastal residents off their reliance on the Sundarbans to help conserve tigers and other species, he added.

According to Bangladesh’s Environment, Forests, and Climate Change Ministry, the Sundarbans is home to 100,000-150,000 deer, 165-200 crocodiles, and 40,000-50,000 monkeys, in addition to the Bengal Tigers.

“We’re also consulting with local shrimp and crab farms’ owners about converting their areas to agriculture in the best interests of the country. As a result, many people will get a livelihood,” said Mridha.

Underlining salinity and climate change as major challenges, he added: “The areas where there is fresh water on the surface of the ground will be carried to other salty areas and create reservoirs for agriculture.”

Protecting forests

Md. Shahabuddin, the country’s environment, forests, and climate change minister, told Anadolu Agency that due to its unique geographical location and climate change, every year Bangladesh experiences “extreme weather events that result in loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods.”

“About 700,000 people, a number larger than many small island nations, are displaced on average each year by natural disasters and climate change impacts over the last decade,” he said, adding that many others in the coastal belt are switching to the Sundarbans for livelihoods.

These people frequently destroy and endanger the country’s main forest, threatening the Bengal Tigers’ existence.

“Currently, the South Asian state’s forest coverage is 14.10%, while the tree-covered area is 22.37%, including the Sundarbans,” Shahabuddin noted.

Citing several projects already underway, he asserted that by 2025 tree coverage will expand to 24%.

He added that the government is working hard to develop competent human resources, including those in coastal areas so that they can find alternate livelihoods and reduce their reliance on the Sundarbans. Thus, tigers and other animals will have a safe environment in which to procreate and live in peace.

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