“People protect what they love.” Jacques Yves Cousteau
The Sundarbans, the largest mangrove system in the world, is a world heritage site and one of the most important natural assets of Bangladesh: it shelters our people from storms, provides food and building materials for millions, and is home to a spectacular array of biodiversity, including the tiger. Yet astonishingly there is no institutional body to celebrate the Sundarbans and reinforce local and national pride in this incredible natural asset. There is no place for visitors to learn about their beautiful forest and about how they can take care of it and contribute to its conservation. There is no centre to voice the needs of the Sundarbans, to tell her story and to secure her future.
WildTeam, with support from the Bangladesh Forest Department and KfW-German Cooperation under IUCN's Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme (ITHCP), is building the Sundarbans Museum and Interpretation Centre. It will be the country's first such institution focused on the Sundarbans, with the goal of increasing knowledge and pro-environmental attitudes among locals in the forest's vicinity, Bangladeshis in general, and international stakeholders.
It will be set up with an aim to research the facts, heritage, and history of the Sundarbans and to disseminate them widely, in order to induce empathy and a sense of pride for the Sundarbans, which will ultimately develop a positive attitude toward the forest, its conservation and pro-environmental behaviour. It is also expected that after having a wonderful experience at this centre, the visitors will understand the importance of the Sundarbans and view it as much more than a tourism spot or even merely a source of recreation and livelihood.
The centre is located on the premises of the WildTeam Conservation Biology Centre (WCBC), at a strategic point in the Chandpai range of the eastern Sundarbans, one of the gateways to the forest. It is situated in a village called Joymonir Ghol under the Chila union of Mongla upazila.
To increase knowledge and pro-environmental attitudes amongst local people, national tourists, and international visitors.
● To act as a Sundarbans knowledge and story-sharing hub
● To share facts and the history of the Sundarbans and its people
● To share natural, cultural, and human stories of the Sundarbans with target audiences
● To increase knowledge and create awareness about the threats faced by the Sundarbans to target audiences
● To provide a space for local people to exchange views, share knowledge, and develop ideas to conserve nature
● To promote local ecotourism.
● The primary target audience of this centre is the local population in the forest's vicinity, who are usually dependent on the mangroves, and are the key stakeholders in the sustainable use and conservation of the Sundarbans. This group is sub-divided into:
● Adults, of which many will be dependent on the Sundarbans
● Youth (15 to 24 years old)
● Children (0 to 14)
● The secondary audience is Bangladeshi tourists to the Sundarbans
● The third audience is international visitors including tourists and development agency staff.
There will be various segments in the centre including history, fauna, flora, people-nature co-existence/people-led conservation, threats, Sundarbans professions - livelihood practices, local arts and traditional knowledge, myths and beliefs, examples of national art and other mediums showing national pride in Sundarbans, Wildlife Act and policies, and wildlife survey techniques.
Displays will have an engaging mixture of art, illustrations, photos, objects (both real and artificial), and also audio-visual based on need. Interactive design will be used as much as possible to keep the interest of the visitor and aid retention of key pieces of information.
A mother message along with child messages for each exhibit segment will be developed. The mode of language for the displays will be Bangla and local names and terms will be used in the descriptions. Key information on each display will also be given in English for the international audiences.
Below are some examples of what might be included in the centre. There will be a detailed design activity that will result in the actual exhibit design and content.
1 Human and Geographic History
History fascinates people. The history of the Sundarbans is not well-known to people. At the proposed SIC the visitors will go back in time and take a tour of the glorious past of the Sundarbans right through to the present.
There will be the history of how the Sundarbans came about, the geography of the area, how Sundarbans has changed over time, natural calamities, how it compares to other mangroves around the globe.
● The tiger will be the focal species for the centre. Other species will include dolphins, otters, fishing cat, leopard cat, deer, porcupine, wild boar, birds including Masked Finfoot, different species of fish, King Cobra, python, turtles including Batagur Baska, etc.
● Paintings of extinct species including rhinos, wild buffalo and swamp deer of the Sundarbans.
● Paintings and/or photos of important plants of the Sundarbans with information.
4. People-nature co-existence/people-led conservation
● Examples of local initiatives with stories from the mouths of members of the local communities: An information corner about Village Tiger Response Team (VTRT), Forest Tiger Response Team (FTRT), BaghBandhus (Friends of Tigers), and TigerScouts with photos.
● There may also be examples of initiatives from other mangrove conservation initiatives around the world which might trigger discussion locally and spark ideas.
● An information corner about Sundarbans threats (e.g., poaching, human-wildlife conflict, unsustainable resource collection, poison fishing, deer meat consumption, illegal logging, plastic pollution, unplanned industrialization, uncontrolled tourism, etc.) with photos and objects (different traps) if possible.
6. Sundarbans professions
● An information corner about Sundarbans professions such as fishing, honey collection, nypa palm harvest, crab collection, and woodcutting (old profession) with photos and objects.
7. Wildlife Act and policies
● An information corner about the Wildlife Act, resource collection rules, Compensation Policy, and other Sundarbans/biodiversity related laws.
8. Wildlife survey techniques
● An information corner about tiger survey technique (e.g., camera trapping) and dolphin survey technique with photos and equipment.
9. Values and fun facts of the Sundarbans
● An information corner about ecosystem services, and the economic and aesthetic value of Sundarbans.
● Some fun facts about the Sundarbans will be spread either in one area or dotted through the other exhibits e.g. this forest has the King Cobra which is the longest poisonous snake in the world, Ring Lizard is the second largest lizard in the world after Comodo Dragon, and one of the largest populations of Masked Finfoots.
10. Kids corner
● This Centre will have some interactive eco-games, audio-visuals, and other educational materials for children to enhance their knowledge and interests in the Sundarbans.
One of the objectives of the centre is to provide a space for visitors to exchange views, share knowledge, and develop ideas to conserve nature. There will be a number of different spaces that will encourage visitors to gather within the building and in its grounds.
Enayetullah Khan, Founder, WildTeam
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