Due to inefficient and inadequate measures, Bangladesh lags in achieving success in tiger conservation despite having dedicated significant funds to the effort over the last two decades.

According to data extracted from projects undertaken by the government and nongovernment organisations, the country has allocated $11 million to tiger conservation to date. Ironically, the number of Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) dropped to 114 in 2018, compared with 440 in 2004.

Bangladesh shares most (60%) of the world’s largest mangrove forest with neighboring India. This mangrove forest is the habitat of many wild animals, including the big cat. In Bangladesh, the mangrove is the only habitat for the Bengal tiger, which has been declared an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or the IUCN.

Along with Bangladesh, Bengal tiger habitats exist in the neighboring countries of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, in China, Russia, India, Nepal and Bhutan are either steady or growing. The World Wildlife Fund also estimates there are 5,574 tigers in the wild in 13 countries worldwide.

The Bangladesh government declared 52% of the Sundarbans (6,017 square kilometers or 2,323 square miles) as protected areas in 2020, up from 23% earlier. The Bangladesh authority declared three sanctuaries for wildlife in the Sundarbans, but not specifically for tigers.

“There are three wildlife sanctuaries in the Sundarbans. East, west and south sanctuar[ies] have been declared for all wildlife but not particularly for tigers, said Mihir Kumar Doe, forest conservator of Khulna Circle.

The Bangladesh government declared 52% of the Sundarbans (6,017 square kilometers or 2,323 square miles) as protected areas in 2020, up from 23% earlier. Credit: Soumyajit Nandy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to the Bangladesh Forest Department, the country has 25 wildlife sanctuaries, but none dedicated to tigers.

Regarding the query about why there are no reserves specifically for tigers, Tiger Conservation Project director Abu Naser Mohsin Hossain replied, “A large portion of Sundarbans has been declared as protected area. We cannot declare a particular area for tigers because tigers roam all over the forest. They never stayed in one place. Therefore, it is not possible to create some areas for tigers. It will disturb their natural habitats.”

He added that India has more than 50 tiger reserve areas, so the Bangladesh portion of the Sundarbans is technically a tiger reserve.

Bangladesh has taken several steps for tiger conservation, including the Tiger Action Plan 2009-17, Bangladesh Tiger Action Plan 2018-27, the National Tiger Recovery Program and the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act, 2012.

Bangladesh has undertaken many projects aimed at conserving the Bengal tiger between 2004 and 2025. However, so far, the outcome of those activities is not remarkable. In 2010, the International Tiger Conservation Forum held a summit in Russia, at which tiger range countries committed to double the global tiger population by 2022.

As per the meeting’s decision, the range of countries with tiger habitat are committed to conducting surveys every four years to observe progress, and Bangladesh is doing so. However, the number of tigers is not increasing, while in Nepal and India, the scenario is the opposite.

Though Bangladesh has no declared tiger reserve area, India’s 50 tiger reserve areas house 80% of the world’s tigers. Sundarban Tiger Reserve in West Bengal is one of them, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. India, Nepal and Bhutan have also dedicated forest areas as tiger reserves.

The world’s largest tiger sanctuary is now in Myanmar. The Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve has more than tripled the size of a tiger sanctuary already in place and is now believed to take up the entire Hukaung Valley, which covers almost 21,970 km2 (8,450 mi2).

Credit: Soumyajit Nandy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Reintroducing tigers

Meanwhile, the authorities took the initiative in 2020 to release tigers in the remote area of southeast Bangladesh, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which borders India and Myanmar. However, a feasibility study found that conditions are unsuitable for a successful reintroduction.

Hossain said, “In Bangladesh, there is no place except Sundarbans where the tiger can live safely. Bangladesh once [during the British colonial period] had 19 districts; among them, 17 districts were habitats of tigers. But nowadays, people may not believe this, but we have a full record of the last tiger death in every district.”

Regarding this, he said, “We did a feasibility study. Later, we found many obstacles to reintroducing tigers there. Historically, those areas are critical for men living there, so if we at least think of reintroducing [tigers], we must take at least 20 years to plan to ensure safe living for humans and tigers. So, there is no hope for now.”

Naturally, there are questions about the project results. Some activists allege that the feasibility study and the mismanagement of the fund have contributed to the lack of success.

Hossain said, “The latest project, Sundarbans tiger conservation project 2022-’25, is the first fully funded project by [the] Bangladesh government. Every project’s expenditure we publish in our website. In 2018, USAID did not give us a single penny. They spent the money where they feel need, and we had nothing to do. And by the World Bank project, we did tiger survey and other awareness-building activities to save tigers.”

A wildlife expert working in Bangladesh, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Mongabay that the amount of money the country allocated and spent for tiger conservation should bring a positive result as well as at least double the number of tigers, but unfortunately it has not happened for several reasons, including weak coordination among the donors and government agencies and in absence of deliberate conservation measures.

This article was first published on Mongabay.