Today is Global Tiger Day. The Day is celebrated every year to raise awareness to conserve tigers, which is critically endangered in Bangladesh. It has immense significance, as the world has witnessed a huge decline of tiger population during the last 100 years. Today WildTeam team is celebrating the Day in all the four ranges of the Sundarbans with the Forest Department.
WidTeam has joined Bangladesh Forest Department to curb poaching, illegal wildlife trade, and avoiding human-animal conflicts. These have shown positive results in the conservation of tigers in the Sundarbans, the last stronghold of tigers in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Forest Department counted 106 tigers in the Sundarbans in 2015. WildTeam under the leadership of the Bangladesh Forest Department with the support from USAID's Bengal Tiger Conservation Activity (Bagh) counted 114 tigers in 2018. One may say that it was not a significant increase. However, considering the natural and anthropogenic threats to tigers, its prey and habitat, many people doubted whether we could keep the tiger number stable in the Sundarbans for 3-4 years. Keeping the tiger population stable in the Sundarbans is not an easy job. The country for the first time witnessed how SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) patrolling could be effective in tiger conservation in the Sundarbans, which was jointly initiated by WildTeam and the Bangladesh Forest Department under USAID's Bagh Project during 2014-18. Now this is a regular activity of the Forest Department. Today Bangladesh Forest Department's capacity in conserving Bangladesh's forest and wildlife has increased manifolds. The new leadership in the Forest Department generates hopes amongst us.
WildTeam has developed Sundarbans specific field conservation experience and knowledge over the last 15 years of working in and around the Sundarbans. We have built up social capital in the villages along the full periphery of the forest in our aim to develop a nature friendly buffer area of villages and mobilise local people for nature conservation. We support the villagers in managing human-wildlife conflict along the forest periphery through the mobilisation and in-kind support of 49 volunteer Village Tiger Response Teams (VTRT) in about 80 percent of the adjacent villages of the Sundarbans. We mobilise and inspire Youth through our TigerScout initiative.
We identified 55 BaghBandhus ("friends of the tiger/tiger ambassadors") along the periphery who, together with the TigerScouts and VTRTs are our local change makers. We also provide free drinking water through two of our field offices to the local villagers. We run five Sundarbans Education Centres in the four ranges, which use local school rooms as venues. WildTeam's work was recognized by the hon'ble Prime Minister once in 2011 (WildTeam, formerly Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh) and again in 2017 (VTRT) by awarding Bangabandhu Award for Wildlife Conservation.
We have an office in each of the four Sundarbans ranges, one of which has also the Sundarbans Interpretation Centre (SIC) and training and accommodation facilities. To build this centre we received support from IUCN-KfW. However, we need more support to install the display objects and to build dioramas in it. The Sundarbans Interpretation Centre, the country's first interpretation centre in the Sundarbans, will be set up with an aim to research the facts, heritage, and history of the Sundarbans and share those with the visitors to grow empathy and a sense of pride for the Sundarbans which ultimately develop a positive attitude toward conservation and pro-environmental behaviours. It is also expected that after having a wonderful experience at SIC the visitors will understand the importance of the Sundarbans and view it beyond a tourism spot and as a source of recreation and livelihood.
Dr Islam is the CEO of WildTeam. He is the former Professor and Chairman of the Department of Zoology, University of Dhaka
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