The Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB), as honoured recipient of the 2011 Bangabandhu Award for Wildlife Conservation, recognises that it is our duty to use our wildlife conservation expertise to support the Government of Bangladesh to conserve our natural heritage, especially our national animal the Bengal Tiger. We are therefore glad to offer our expertise and recommendations to secure the best fate for the three Sundarbans tiger cubs rescued from the illegal wildlife trade on 11 June by the Rapid Action Battalion.
As the only organization in Bangladesh dedicated to tiger conservation, we feel a strong attachment to this case. As conservationists, we have devoted our lives to conserving tigers in the wild, but as people, our hearts have been touched by the plight of these poor cubs.
It is now the decision of the Government to decide the future of these cubs. WTB, in our role as tiger conservation experts and as a supporter and advisor to the Forest Department and member of the WildlifeAdvisory Board and of IUCN, has provided guidance below. We hope this helps in taking this difficult decision.
- Option 1: Return the cubs to the wild
Reunite the cubs with their mother: If possible, this would be the best option for tiger conservation. However, it is also the most difficult as reuniting can be risky and the fate of the mother is unclear. It may be that she has been killed or that the roaring a tiger nearby the abduction site heard a few weeks ago was that of the mother searching for her cubs. We propose to search for the mother, and if we can find her, attempt to reunite the tiger family. This option is not without serious risks as the mother could reject or even kill her cubs if too much time has passed.
Send the cubs to a tiger rehabilitation centre: At a specialized tiger rehabilitation and rewilding center, the cubs could grow up more naturally and learn how to be wild tigers. This would in turn offer them the possibility of returning to the wild when grown. Currently there are no facilities in Bangladesh that are capable of raising cubs that could become wild again. There are such facilities available in other tiger countries however. As an organization with tiger conservation expertise, WTB offers our full support to the Forest Department in implementing these options, if the Government should decide this way.
- Option 2: Removal to permanent captivity
In this option, the cubs would be completely removed from the wild population and therefore no longer part of direct conservation efforts. The issue becomes welfare rather than conservation. If the decision is made to keep the cubs in permanent captivity in Bangladesh, then it should be in a facility that offers high welfare standards. If there is no such facility in Bangladesh, then steps should be taken immediately to create one as the cubs should not be made to suffer in any way.WTB can provide detailed guidelines on how facilities can be designed to ensure maximum welfare for tigers.
As a conservation organization, WTB’s preference is ‘Option 1: Return the cubs to the wild’, if possible. Option 1 is the best and favoured option given the endangered status of wild tigers in Bangladesh and throughout the world. However, return to the wild is only possible under certain conditions and is not without very serious risks.
A decision must be made quickly. With each passing hour, the likelihood of being able to return the cubs to the wild grows smaller. In addition, the cubs need be given immediate care to ensure their welfare needs are met to increase their chances of survival and of growing up without physical or mental illness. A strict protocol on handling of cubs during hand rearing must be followed to avoid stress, to avoid the development of abnormal behavior, and to minimize the risk of disease transmission from human to tiger.
WTB has an extensive international network of tiger specialists, veterinarians and zoo keepers with years of experience in hand raising tiger cubs. WTB’s expert network includes the Zoological Society of London, the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme, the South Asian Zoo Association for Regional Cooperation, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums and many others. We would be happy to support the FD by providing advice on the hand rearing of these cubs.
In addition, while the fate of the cubs is most important, we must not forget the cause of their predicament: poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. As the current Wildlife Act is being redrafted due to weak punishments, we suggest that the suspects be prosecuted under the Forest Act or the Special Forces Act instead. This will enable a more appropriate sentence to be served and justice done for these poor cubs.
As always, WTB stands by ready to support the Government in working towards the long-term conservation of wild tigers in Bangladesh.
The Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB) is a non-profit organization working to protect the biodiversity of Bangladesh. It has a dedicated team of scientists, field biologists, project managers, communication specialists and veterinarians, who are involved in different conservation projects across the country.
STP is a tiger conservation project initiated by Bangladesh Forest department in 2004 and became a part of WTB in 2008. The project aim is to create a wider network to bring together more people to help in conserving the tiger.