Funding

The funding for the initial research program was provided by Save the Tiger Fund and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Funding for the Tiger Response Team for 2006-7 was provided by the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund.
The USFWS have been a tremendous help to the project and recently awarded a grant to continue with activities such as: training forest department staff, tiger and prey monitoring to ensure that levels can be monitored to warn management of any sudden drops that require their attention, the development of a local and national awareness and education programme.
Logistical support, facilities, equipment and human resources are provided by the Forest Department of Bangladesh.

The project needs much more funding if it is going to make a real difference to tiger conservation.

Of particular urgency is funding for the Problem Tiger Response Team for January 2009. This boat-based team act as an ambulance in the forest to help tiger attack victims with emergency first aid and transport to nearest medical help.

Please get in touch with Christina Greenwood on tigerdata@gmail.com to find out which or our other iniatives require support, and with any ither queries and or suggestions relating to funding.

A brief introduction to the Sundarbans…

The Sundarbans forest has been in existence for about 4,000 years and has been formed by silt from the Himalayas brought down by the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. The Sundarbans waterways rise and fall with the Bay of Bengal tide, with high tide reached every 12 hours and 50 minutes. The Sundarbans of Bangladesh and India covers a total of 10,000 km2, 6,000 km2 of which is on the Bangladeshi side. It is classified as a mangrove forest from the collection of tree types that can survive in this highly saline environment. Mangrove forests support a unique mixture of plants and animals, but unfortunately there is little of this forest type remaining in the world.

the Bangladeshi people with wood, neepa, grass, honey, prawns, shrimp and fish.

The Sundarbans is also part of the cultural heritage of Bangladesh. When people from other countries think of Bangladesh, they nearly always associate it with the Sundarbans. In terms of the history of the Bangladeshi people, there are still the remains of the salt factories down in Katka and the 500-600 year old temples at Sheiker Tek. Linked to the future of the forest is the future of wild tigers. A well protected Sundarbans will ensure that future generations will know what it’s like to walk in a forest inhabited by wild tigers, and get the benefits of a healthier environment.

Protecting the tiger means keeping its home intact and functioning in a natural way. This relies on the continued interaction of many different plant and animal species . There are approximately 300 plant, 32 mammal, 35 reptile, 125 fish and 300 bird species so far listed for the Sundarbans. Each organism has an important role to fulfill.

The trees roots secure soil that would otherwise be washed away. Plants provide essential food and shelter to all the animals living in the Sundarbans. The trees also give stalking cover for the tiger. The tree cover is largely dominated by Sundri, Gewa, Goran, and Keora. When trees die and fall over, they provide a home to another set of animals, plants and fungi. The rotting woody material gets recycled and added to the composition and nutrient content of the soil. Tree trunks drifting out to sea are valuable resting places for a number of sea birds.

The tiger helps regulate the populations of deer, wild boar and monkey. When a tiger makes a kill, the valuable food of the carcass is then available to a wide range of different mammals (wild boar, jungle cats, civets, jackal), reptiles (monitor lizards), birds (crows, adjutant stalks, rufus tree pies) and insects.Deer, wild boar and monkey consume a lot of plant material, which in turn affects the general vegetation structure of the Sundarbans.

Their droppings provide nutrition to insects and plants, as well as disperse seeds so that plants can colonize new areas. The Irrawady dolphin, Gangetic dolphin, Finless porpoise and Indo-pacific hump-backed dolphins feed on the various fish species in the river, as do otters. In doing so, they are regulating fish stocks and providing sources of nutrition to other organisms. Fish feed on vegetation, insects, and in some cases, other fish. They are also the main food for many other animals. Bees, beetles, flies, butterflies and other insects all are important pollinators of plants.

They are also a vital component of the natural recycling system that turns dead plant and animal matter into nutrients that can be used by others. Monitor lizards are important scavengers of carcasses. Other types of lizards, such as Gekos, feed on insects. Snakes help keep the rodent population in check, while crocodiles feed on fish, birds and carrion.Birds fill a variety of roles in the Sundarbans, including being predators, prey, pollinators and seed dispersers.

Monsoon break (July-September, 2020)

As the rain pours down over the Sundarbans, some of the team (Chris and Adam) have retreated to the UK (where it is also raining), to write up reports and get ready for the upcoming season. Perhaps not so keen to experience an English summer, Hasan, Mizan and Alam are still in Bangladesh carrying out project work.

The Sundarbans being a large place, activities tend to take considerable time and effort to implement. The team has now handed a Forest Department Sundarbans Handbook to every Forest Department staff working in the Sundarbans, and in October they will have to visit everyone again to assess if the book has had any impact on the Forest Guard’s knowledge or motivation. The book distribution is probably one of the best initiatives we have come up with; it has the potential to have a large and tangible effect on the protection levels in the Sundarbans. By arming the Forest Guards with knowledge about tigers and the threats they face, we hope they will realize the huge value of their work and improve their efforts to keep the jungle safe for its wildlife and the people that use it. There are many signs of how well the book is being received but two in particular stand out so far. In one case, a FD guard heard about the book distribution but got tired of waiting for us to reach his guard post, so he traveled several hours by boat to go and borrow a copy from a colleague. In the second case we were conducting a training session for a new FD Response Team. In an open discussion session about how to deal with tigers killing livestock, a Forest Guard took over proceedings and talked at length about tiger biology, the species reliance on prey, the need to protect them for the health of the ecosystem, and the importance of the Sundarbans to the future of mankind. The words were his, but the information came straight out of the book.

Another success of the season was the prey survey carried out in the field by the FD and supported by Hasan and Alex. It is no small task to spend months scrambling about the jungle counting deer pellets, but they managed it on time and attained new heights of stoicism; somehow, they did not have nervous breakdowns when boats flooded, food ran out or when 200 liters of fuel they purchased turned out to be water.

Mizan and Alam had to cope with a more dangerous challenge. Working with the FD Tiger Response Teams, they had to deal with situations involving man-eating and livestock killing tigers. Sometimes they were training joint FD-village Response teams, other times they were giving vital medical assistance to tiger victims or even helping to retrieve bodies that had been taken into the forest by a tiger. The whole idea is to make the Sundarbans safer for both people and tigers by reducing the conflict between them in all its forms. Unfortunately 2 tigers were killed this year by villagers. One transient female tiger, probably only 3 years old, was killed by villagers near Nalian guard post when villagers found the tiger in fields near their village. This tiger had never killed any person or livestock but, without knowledge on tigers or skills to deal with them, the villagers panicked and beat the tiger to death. In a more recent case, villagers killed a tiger near Kadamtala Guard Post. The tiger had entered the village during the night, killed three people and was eventually surrounded by villagers who killed it then strung it from a tree. Such instances are not uncommon in the Sundarbans but we need to find ways to deal with the conflict if we are to stand a realistic chance of securing the future for tigers in the area.

On a research note, the findings of the FD tiger abundance survey have been published in the journal of Biological Conservation. The track survey found high tiger abundance in the south and west but lower abundance in the north-east. Now that we have a strong monitoring program we will be able to track changes in the tiger population over time so that we can measure if our conservation efforts are having an effect; if we are doing a good job then tiger numbers will remain stable or increase, if we are not being effective then the population will decline and the survey will help us identify problem areas where we need to put in more effort. The abstract of the paper can be found at:-

On a different note, Mizan, Alam and Hasan had a training session to improve their field skills with a visiting bear biologist, Rob Steinmetz, who works in Thailand for the WWF. Rob came over to help conduct a workshop on bears and survey some forests in the north of Bangladesh for bear sign. The workshop was organized by Dr Anwarul Islam and the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh. Rob enjoyed the warm hospitality of Bangladesh, and, together with the other participants, managed to find bear sign in part of the forest they surveyed. Alam, Mizan and Hasan learnt a lot about bears and tracking in general, which will stand them in good stead for their overall work in the field.

Over the monsoon, as well as project duties, Hasan will be finishing off his degree in Environmental science from North-South University while Alam and Mizan take computer and English classes down near Khulna. Next season they will need all the skills they can get, as tiger conservation makes what we hope will be a huge leap forward.

Adam Barlow and Christina Greenwood
Somewhere in the north of England