They are more valuable than we think
Currently, there are 3,890 around tigers in the world. Among them, the largest number of tigers are in our neighbouring country India, which has 2,226. Bangladesh holds seventh place in the number of tigers.
At present, there are 114 tigers in Bangladesh (as of 2018). In addition, there are 235 tigers in Nepal, 103 in Bhutan, 189 in Thailand, 250-340 in Malaysia, 540 in Russia, 50 in China, 17 in Laos, and five in Vietnam.
In the last decade, the number of tigers has increased significantly in India, Nepal, Russia, and Bhutan. According to thWorld Wide Fund (WWF) data, in 2006 the tiger population in India was 1,411, which increased to 1,706 by 2010.
According to the census of 2014, the number then increased to 2,226 tigers. On the other hand, in Bhutan, there were 75 tigers in 2010, which according to the count of 2014, stood at 103.
In Nepal, the tiger population has increased from 121 in 2009, to an almost doubled amount of 235 in 2018.
According to the count of 2005, the number of tigers in Russia was 423, which stood at 540 in 2015. On the other hand, in Bangladesh, where the population of tigers was 440 in 2004, it has dropped drastically to 106 in the data of 2015.
However, in recent times, the amount has increased to 114 in the year 2018. The tigers have only increased in population by eight in three years -- which is not as expected.
Various factors such as the free movement of people in Sundarbans, tiger-human conflict, decreasing the number of deer and other feed sources, as well as genetic reasons, are responsible for not being able to increase the number of tigers.
As the number of tigers in the Sundarbans is limited, there is no genetic variation in reproduction.
At the same time, because of the small number of tigers in Sundarbans, the probability of inbreeding between them -- procreation between tigers of close relationship -- is high.
This leads to the release of a type of deleterious gene, which increases the probability of maternal mortality, as well as infant mortality.
In addition to the management of human and natural causes, it is important for us to think seriously about genetic and related issues. There is a need to bring about a genetic variation to this majestic animal which remains in danger of extinction.
Increasing heterogenicity by genetic variation can be expected to increase tiger numbers. But how can we increase the heterogeneity of tigers in Sundarbans? In this case, the effective method might be re-introduction.
In this method, under the supervision of experienced experts, the selected tigers from different sources (zoos and safari parks) of Bangladesh are mated, and thus increase the number of tigers through reproduction.
After these tigers are given proper training to survive the wild, at first they should be released in the semi-wild environment, restricting them to the place, and then after observing the situation, they should be released into the wild.
Thus, through this process, genetic variation can be achieved. The re-introduction program has been undertaken by several countries.
By exchanging the tigers between all zoos and safari parks in Bangladesh, completing the first step of bringing the genetic variation through breeding, it is possible to gradually increase the number of tigers by releasing them into the wild and achieving the original purpose of genetic variation.
It is important to note that genetic variation will help to improve the tiger’s immunity and adaptability to the environment.
Bringing genetic diversity alone will not prevent the extinction of tigers. We also have to take a short and long-term plan to protect the Sundarbans tiger.
1. Public entry into the Sundarbans must be completely banned
2. If people live in the forests, they should be removed from the Sundarbans, and rehabilitated elsewhere
3. In the Sundarbans honey, wood, golpata collection, and fish hunting must be stopped. People need to self-sustain through the adoption of artificial honey, livestock, and fish farming projects. Biogas must also be set up in each family
4. Setting barbed wire fencing between the Sundarbans and people’s residences should keep tigers away from humans. Besides, the entry of tigers to human areas can be reduced by installing solar panels at the centre of the locality, adjacent to the Sundarbans
5. CCTV cameras will be placed and covered under constant supervision in those areas of the Sundarbans which are more crime-prone with the available illegal entrance
6. To ensure adequate food for tigers, deer and pig farms should be established near the Sundarbans
7. Natural water reservoirs should be provided to remove the salinity of the Sundarbans and provide safe drinking water for tiger
8. Compensation arrangements should be made for the killed and injured people, and the loss of livestock in the aggression of tigers
There is no alternative to saving the Sundarbans and its tigers. If we fail, the forest will be desolate, the lowlands will be flooded due to excess tides, salinity levels will increase in the soil. Crop production will decrease and poverty will increase.
Md Shahadat Hossain is the Deputy Curator at the Chittagong Zoo. Md Tariqul Islam Anik is the Production Officer at Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University.