- About 300 people and 46 tigers have been killed since 2000 in human-tiger conflicts in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans.
- Authorities here have decided to install fencing along the rivers and canals that the big cats use to cross into human settlements.
- Experts point to a successful application of this measure in the Indian Sundarbans, and say the fencing will both keep tigers out of human settlements, and humans and their domestic animals out of tiger habitat.
- The Sundarbans is the only mangrove habitat in the world that supports tigers, but the ecosystem continues to be degraded due to human and natural causes.
Authorities have thought of a new solution to tackle human-tiger conflicts in the Sundarbans: installing nylon fencing. With this, they aim to protect both the communities and the endangered big cats in the mangroves.
The move is part of the Bangladesh Forest Department’s three-year Sundarbans Tiger Conservation Project, launched in March 2022, and is aimed at keeping tigers and humans out of each other’s spaces.
“Initially, we will erect polypropylene net fencing over 60 kilometers in the Sundarbans. And the installation work of net fencing will begin to form the next fiscal year [2023-2024],” project director Abu Naser Mohsin, who is also the divisional forest officer for Bangladesh’s western Sundarbans, told Mongabay.
The Sundarbans, at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal, is the only mangrove habitat in the world where tigers (Panthera tigris) occur. But the ecosystem continues to be degraded due to human and natural causes. The human population in the area is growing, with communities largely dependent on the forest for their livelihoods. That makes overexploitation of natural resources, land reclamation, pollution, fishing and farming among the key drivers of the mangrove’s degradation.
Large swaths of the Sundarbans are also drying up as the rivers and channels that feed into it fill up with sediment, allowing people to access parts of the mangrove forest they wouldn’t have been able to previously.
“People can easily enter the forest there for their livelihood and locals often send their cattle and buffaloes to the Sundarbans for grazing, luring tigers to attack the domesticated animals,” Mohsin said.
The growing proximity between tigers and humans also means the big cats are more exposed to diseases carried by domestic animals like dogs, he added. In light of this, the net fencing will be installed along the dried-out riverbeds and canals so that people and their domestic animals can’t enter the Sundarbans, Mohsin said.
Human-tiger conflicts on the rise
Tigers and humans have always managed an uneasy coexistence in the Sundarbans, but the overlap has intensified in recent years. In the early hours of Jan. 12 this year, two tigers crossed the Bhola River and roamed across part of the village of Sonatala in the municipality of Bagerhat.
In that instance, the tigers returned to the forest without any incident. In many other cases, however, panicked villagers attack and kill the tigers in their midst. For the tigers, the villages with their captive livestock make for easy hunting grounds, and they frequently swim across rivers to get to these settlements, often at night.
According to the Forest Department, tigers in the Sundarbans have entered human settlements more than 50 times in the past 15 years, with casualties on both sides during these incidents. Forest Department data show that 49 tigers died in the Sundarbans between 2001 and 2021.
However, Mohsin said about 300 people and 46 tigers have been killed in human-tiger conflicts since the turn of the century.
A 2018 survey revealed only 114 tigers as the estimated tiger population in the Bangladesh part of the Sundarbans (the western part is managed by India). While that’s marginally higher than the 106 estimated in 2015, it’s a steep drop from the 440 estimated in 2004.
Poaching, human-tiger conflict and natural disasters have contributed to the rapid decline of the big cats in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh’s only natural tiger habitat.
Indian example shows fences can help
In West Bengal, in India, which borders Bangladesh, Sundarbans National Park authorities have already put up nylon net fencing along a 90-km (56-mi) stretch of the mangroves there. Since then, they’ve seen a dramatic fall in the reported numbers of tigers entering human settlements.
Doing the same in Bangladesh should prevent tigers entering villages here while at the same time prevent people from entering the forest, thereby minimising the potential for human-tiger conflict, according to Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmad, former chief conservator of forest and the former country representative for the IUCN, the global wildlife conservation authority.
M. Monirul H. Khan, a professor of zoology at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka and co-author of the Bangladesh Tiger Action Plan, also welcomed the fencing plan as an effective means to address the problem.
“And the local communities will come forward to conserving tigers as their mentality of enmity against the big cats will diminish,” he added.
Islam, S. M., & Bhuiyan, M. A. (2018). Sundarbans mangrove forest of Bangladesh: Causes of degradation and sustainable management options. Environmental Sustainability, 1(2), 113-131. doi:10.1007/s42398-018-0018-y
This story was first published on Mongabay.com.
Banner image: The Sundarbans, at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal, is the only mangrove habitat in the world where tigers occur. Photo by Sagar/Flickr.