This year on 4 July Sheikh Hasina, the Honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh, gave Bangabandhu Award for Wildlife Conservation to Village Tiger Response Team (VTRT). When a tiger strays into a village, these Village Tiger Response Teams send it back into the forest. These volunteers are respected role models in their villages.
There are 49 VTRTs, around all the four ranges in the Sundarbans, consisting of over 340 local men and women who volunteer to protect tigers and villagers along the edge of the forest. These teams were formed by TigerTeam, an initiative of WildTeam, a conservation organization, dedicated to wildlife conservation in the Sundarbans working in particular to conserve the Bengal tiger.
Members of the TigerTeam have chosen to devote their lives to save tigers of the Bangladesh Sundarbans. They do this because tigers are the guardians of the forest upon which they and their families depend. Before TigerTeam started this work, the future was bleak for tigers. When a tiger strayed into a village, people used to beat it to death. Poachers killed tigers with snares, guns, and poison. Villagers also suffered terribly, losing loved ones to tiger attacks. Real change came when the community became involved in saving tigers, supported and empowered by WildTeam.
WildTeam's TigerTeam has provided a 24/7 in-forest emergency water ambulance service for tiger attack victims, supported by fellow villagers who risk their lives retrieving the bodies of tiger victims from the forest. This service is called Forest Tiger Response Team (FTRT). Besides giving first aid and transport to people attacked by tigers inside the forest, sometimes they have to retrieve a body from the jaws of a tiger, risking their lives to make it safer for others and to help the grieving families.
TigerTeam's work is a great example of why we believe that people are the solution and how we are acting fearlessly to change the game for nature. Since 2008, they have rescued more than 50 tiger victims and retrieved more than 100 dead bodies.
TigerTeam gave local people a crime hotline so that they could report poachers and any wildlife crime. TigerTeam also created Tiger scouts to develop future conservation leaders from school students and to promote tiger conservation messages among the school students. Bagh Bondhu or Tiger Friends is another initiative of TigerTeam to include local leaders to voluntarily raise awareness among the local community people to conserve tigers.
WildTeam relies on thorough research to uncover the mysteries of the Sundarbans' tigers to find out how tigers live in this unique forest and what they need to survive. They also monitor changes in the tiger population every year, and are working on similar approaches to keep track of the deer population, tigers' main prey. To help design effective solutions, they carry out social research to understand what drives the human behaviors that threaten tigers, such as eating deer meat or killing stray tigers. In this way, they also measure the success of their campaigns to change these behaviors.
Under the leadership of the Bangladesh Forest Department, WildTeam trained government forest guards in improved patrolling called SMART patrolling in the Bangladesh Sundarbans through USAID's Bagh Activity. They also worked with other law enforcement agencies to fight poaching. The SMART patrolling brought a huge success and over 242 arrests have been made in the last 2 years.
As an explicit sign of the commitment of our government to conserve tigers, Sheikh Hasina, the Honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh, herself showed her commitment by holding the pledge card #istandfortigers. This was not the only time she expressed her commitment. In November 2010, at the world's first tiger summit of St Petersburg International Forum on Tiger Conservation, Russia, the Honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh expressed her government's determination to strive to double the number of wild tigers across their range by 2022 on the basis of the tiger population.
And to achieve that goal she and her government are working restlessly. We are very hopeful as our Honorable Prime Minister stated in that summit that the tigers protect the Sundarbans, while the Sundarbans saves Bangladesh. She also assured that her government will do everything to protect the tigers. It shows that our government's political commitment is very strong and hopefully we could achieve our goal.
Until 2010 global tiger population was 3200. As per 2010's commitments of the leaders of all tiger range countries, including Bangladesh, all governments increased their effort and as a result in 2016 global tiger population increased to 3890 (data published in the 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, 2016, New Delhi, India.) There were no good news during the last 100 years but now we've good news as tiger number has risen.
Our heartfelt thanks to the government of Bangladesh, especially the HonorablePrime Minister for awarding the Bangabandhu Award for Wildlife Conservation 2017 to the Village Tiger Response Team (VTRT). I may mention that she gave this award to the WildTeam (the then Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh). It is now considered brave to save rather than kill a tiger!
The writer is chairman of WildTeam and chief editor of Dhaka Courier and UNB
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