Friday, July 29, 2011

Global Tiger Day: have you hugged your big cat today?

Today is Global Tiger Day - a day when nations around the globe, particularly those nations which are home to some of these magnificent felines, recognize both the beauty of this jungle predator and the tragic situation regarding their dwindling numbers. Governments throughout Asia join with conservation groups to recognize the plight of the tiger and vow to continue or reinvigorate efforts to conserve and protect these cats which have been imperiled by declining habitat and continued poaching.

However, as well-intended as something like Global Tiger Day is, it will take a lot more than one day to make progress on the issue. As with many other animal conservation challenges, it requires manpower, enforcement and prosecution, and money. Due to the tiger's scarcity, the black market for tiger hides and genitals - yes, one of the biggest black markets is in tiger penises - makes the temptation for subsistence-level poachers just too overwhelming. The laws and regulations are on the books; its concrete and sustained action that is often lacking.

Bangladesh is trying to make just such a proactive difference in protecting the Royal Bengal tigers that inhabit the largest mangrove forest habitat on the planet, the Sundarbans.

As reported in Bangladesh's The Daily Star,
"The Tk 276 crore Tiger Action Plan would be implemented as part of strengthening regional co-operation for wildlife conservation with the assistance of the World Bank," said Dr Tapan Kumar Dey, Conservator of Forests at Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle under the Office of the Chief Conservator of Forests.

The Sundarbans is a wide delta at the confluence of the Padma, Brahmuputra, and Meghna Rivers, spreading across southern Bangladesh and extending into India. The mangrove forests cover over 3,861 sq. miles (10,000 sq. km.) but are now surrounded by encroaching agriculture and urban development to such an extant that it has been declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site in danger.

There are three promising components found in Bangladesh's proposed Tiger Plan. First, attention will be focused on enforcement and prosecution of poachers. Violators will face new 12-year prison terms for killing a tiger and repeat offenders can be awarded life sentences. But an important second step is the recognition that many of these poachers are subsistence level villagers and so a proactive approach to alternative income, wildlife sustainability, and social change has also been proposed.
The government realizes that if you take away something that is bad, you must be able to replace it with something good.

The Daily Star reports that according to Dr. Dey, the government has undertaken initiatives including increasing the number of forest department officials, conducting regular tiger monitoring, assessment of threats to the tigers, raising mass awareness locally and nationally, and facilitating research for a new generation of scientists targeting to bring social changes among the Bangladesh people.

And finally, the involvement of the World Bank is a positive sign that it is understood without financial support all pronouncements of conservation and protection would ring hollow; empty promises lost in the forest.

Current world populations figures for the tiger, including all five of the known sub-species, number around only 3,700, a terrible decline from an approximate 100,000 cats at the start of the 20th century. According to a 2004 study by the United Nations and the Bangladeshi government, only 440 Royal Bengal tigers were estimated in the Bangladesh portion of the Sundarbans.

The Daily Star reports that there are only five sub-species of tigers surviving in the world which are Bengal tiger, Siberian tiger, Sumatran tiger, South-China tiger and Indo-China tiger. Balinese tigers, Javanese tigers and Caspian tigers have already vanished from the planet with experts predicting the remaining species could disappear by the next century or sooner. Bangladesh State Minister for Forest and Environment Dr Hasan Mahmud said the government would take action to double the number of tigers by 2022.

Global Tiger Day, July 29th, 2011. Have you hugged your cat today? You just might get a hug back on behalf of a distant relative.

Read about Bangladesh's Tiger Plan in The Daily Star.

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