There is bad news for tigers. When the World Tiger Day was being observed, an unsettling report on tigers also came to light. Through a recently completed research, it has been found that Bangladesh is a centre for poaching of tigers and smuggling of their body parts. Worse yet, the Bangladeshi nouveau riche are the main patrons of this illicit trade. All the members of this new class of the rich who ‘love not the endangered tigers, but their limbs’ do not necessarily live in Bangladesh. They along with their fellow lovers of animal limbs from India, China and Malaysia as well as some European countries reside in some 15 countries. And the racket of poachers and smugglers of tiger limbs are active at different points in the country to satisfy their customers living at home and abroad. The lead researcher, who is also a former doctoral fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dr Nasir Uddin, between 2016 and 2021, interviewed some 163 smugglers, poachers and illicit traders in tiger body parts to collect data about the points in the country from where the smuggled tigers or their parts are collected, processed and distributed. In this manner, he could also identify the transit ports and illegal border crossings for carrying out this illicit trade. Researchers could also identify four spots in the Sundarbans from where the tigers are hunted.
Researchers at Panthera, a non-profit dedicated to conservation of wildlife, especially big cats, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have come up with these findings. And to meet the demands of these rich people, tigers are poached not only from the Sundarbans. Kaziranga National Park and Garampani Wildlife Sanctuary of Assam and Namdapha National Park of Arunachal in India and Northern Forest Complex of Myanmar are also the sources of the illicit trade in tiger body parts.
Going by the Forest Department’s data, the tiger population in the Sundarbans fluctuated over the decades. In 1975, the number was 350. Through a tiger survey done in 1982, 425 tigers were spotted. In another survey done two years later in 1984, the number was reported to be between 430 and 450 within an area of 110 square kilometres under the Sundarbans South Wildlife Sanctuary. The number fell to 359 tigers according to another survey done in 1992. In 1993, Nepali naturalist and expert on tiger census, Dhan Bahadur Tamang, through his tiger survey done by counting footprints, also called pugmarks, of tigers, found the number to be 362 within an area of 350 square kilometres of the Sundarbans. However, the number jumped to 440 in 2004’s survey. Surprisingly, in 2015, only 106 tigers were found in the Bangladesh part of the Sundarbans. Such a fall in the number of tigers was indeed alarming. The last tiger survey done in 2018 saw the number rise slightly to 114. What did go wrong? Bodies of 4 dead tigers were recovered by the Forest Department officials in the East Sundarbans between August 2019 and January 2022. A smuggler with tiger skin was arrested by the law-enforcers with the help of Forest Department people in January 2021. So far, from the remains of the tigers found by law enforcers and forest department officials, it is calculated that 7 tigers were killed by poachers.
Given the research findings of the Panthera and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, there should not be any mystery about where all the tigers have gone. Pirates killing the tigers and those smuggling tiger body parts out of the country can be fought.
But how are the government and the tiger lovers going to fight the powerful patrons of the illicit trade in tiger body parts?