On 14th January, at 6:30 pm news arrived that a tiger had entered the village named Angtihara. The village is a part of Khashitana camp, within the Khulna range of Sundarbans Reserve Forest.
Bangladesh Forest Department took instant steps together with Sundarbans Tiger Project (STP) of Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB) and formulated a plan to control the situation. A team comprising of Forest Department officials and STP members were dispatched to the village within hours of the news being received. With the help of the Chairman, members of the Union Council and the local Village Tiger Response Team (VTRT) led by Goni, the villagers were kept at a safe distance from the tiger. Ashraful Haque, the leader of STP’s VTRT development activities, added “Controlling a mob of hundreds or thousands of villagers is one of the hardest tasks to achieve in this type of operation, but our last 3 years of work is starting to change the attitudes on the local people to be more supportive”.
Around 9 pm, after a meeting with the DFO of Khulna range it was decided that an immobilizing team from STP needed to reach the scene as well. The joint Forest Department and STP team arrived at the village at midnight. Without any damage to the tiger or to any villagers the tiger was anaesthetized by Abu Naser Mohsin Hossain, ACF, Forest Department at 6:30 am on 15th January. Over the past few years, Hossain has received much training from STP on tiger immobilization in both Thailand and in Bangladesh. Professor Md. Anwarul Islam, CEO of WTB and director of STP said “Naser has proved to be a talented individual within the Forest Department. He was absolutely the right person for the job and we are proud of his achievement.” Naser Hossain adds, "The Wildlife Division of the Forest Department is in the process of building a specialist tiger management unit with help from STP. The upcoming World Bank project will also add to this process. A plan must also be put in place to ensure that this specialist unit continues beyond the end of any projects."
Within half an hour of the mobilization, the tiger had been brought back to Kolagachia Camp safely. There the weight, temperature and vitals of the tiger were carefully checked. It was observed that the tiger had only three legs and was extremely weak. Professor Md. Anwarul Islam explained that “The loss of the rear hind leg up to the knee is likely due to poacher’s snare, and given the age of the injury it seems to have happened sometime within the last few weeks.” Within 10:30 am the tiger had regained full consciousness and was alert.
Decisions regarding the fate of the tiger have not yet been finalized. The options include: return to the forest, mercy killing also known as euthanasia for welfare purposes, or it could be sent to a captive animal centre such as Dulahazra Safari Park. “Such decisions cannot be taken lightly” said Professor Md. Anwarul Islam who works closely with conflict tiger specialists from around the world, “The decision to return any tiger to the forest needs take into consideration the health of the tiger – it should only be returned if it is able to hunt natural prey successfully. In addition, ways to monitor the tiger once back in the forest need to be in place including the use of tracking collars and the presence of a team capable of doing this monitoring 24 hours per day so that further conflict incidents can be avoided. We’ve waited too long to use collars and this waiting has resulted in dead people, tigers, and livestock..” If the tiger cannot be returned to the forest, then the ability of captive accommodation options to meet international animal welfare standards need to be assessed. Rubaiya Ahmad, Director of Obhoyaronno (Bangladesh Animal Welfare Society), adds, “Given the miserable condition of our nation’s zoos and safari parks, this would be an extremely unethical choice and against animal welfare standards. An adult tiger used to a solitary existence in the wild would find conditions in Bangladesh’s current facilities intolerable. Besides, there simply is no space for an additional 2 to 3 tigers every year."
In Bangladesh, this is the second time that a tiger has been immobilized and removed from a village successfully avoiding a brutal killing of the tiger by villagers and reducing chance of human injury. The first incident was on 19th February, 2011; a stray tiger was saved from Harinagar village of Shyamnagar Upazila in Satkhira district by being immobilised, before being released into the forest by a Forest Department and STP team.
These are massive steps for the country and were possible because of the helpful attitudes of the villagers and village elites, and the coordinated activities of the Sundarbans Tiger Project and Bangladesh Forest Department.