Bangladesh's Sundarbans mangrove forest is a haven for the endangered tiger. But with a large human population as well, there is often conflict. A dedicated network of volunteers is trying to make sure this happens less.
Mahbubul Alam is a coordinator for the Bagh Project - a joint grassroots initiative between the Bangladeshi NGO WildTeam and USAID. Based in the city of Khulna in the Sundarbans, Alam works with a network of "Village Tiger Response Teams" in dozens of villages throughout the area. The teams work with local authorities and communities to educate and try and reduce the conflict that occurs between tigers and humans.
The Sundarbans are a UNESCO World Heritage site that straddle the border between India and Bangladesh, and the largest tidal mangrove forest in the world. Hundreds of Bengal tigers roam the forests, but a census released in 2015 showed that their numbers in Bangladesh are far lower than previously thought and amount to no more than 200. Given more than a million people live in the area, conflicts are common and it is estimated that tigers attack about 60 people a year. Alam spoke to DW about his work.
"We started the Village Tiger Response Team initiative in 2007. At that time there was no efficient response to the problem of conflict between humans and tigers so we were trying to think of ways to solve the problem with communities. We formed our first team in a village in the Sundarbans and then tried to expand the initiative throughout the area. We now have 49 teams across the four ranges that make up the Sundarbans.
The main objective of forming the teams was to help save wildlife but also to protect communities from damage caused by tigers. A common conflict scenario often arises when tigers and humans are forced to share resources. A lack of available food also means that the animals are sometimes forced to hunt outside their natural forest habitat and venture nearer villages.
There is also conflict when tigers track livestock and prey on them in villages. Given they are very territorial animals, young tigers often need to search for new territories and that sometimes sees them leave the forest and end up nearer human settlements.
Communities in the Sundarbans are now working hard to reduce activities that can have an adverse effect on tigers, such as habitat loss and the grazing of livestock in forested areas. We are trying to reduce the number of tigers killed in retribution and also to reduce livestock depredation by tigers.
Village Tiger Response Team volunteers in the Sundarbans area and Bangladesh. They are training on how to resolve conflict between humans and tigers
We wanted the VTRTs to develop into a sustainable community-based organization. For that to happen, they need to work well with local institutions and authorities and to achieve financial sustainability.
All team members work on a voluntary basis. For them, the motivation is to protect tigers and to be seen by their communities as something akin to a hero.
Back in 2007 the main conservation challenges for the Sundarbans were conflict between humans and wildlife. These days the main concern is wildlife crime including poaching. As our teams develop and work with authorities, they will become more effective.
But changes are happening. People love the Sundarbans and they love tigers."