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

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