South Asia

Bangladesh tiger freed into wilderness near Sundarbans

Many tigers are captured and killed by villagers
Image caption Some tigers are captured and killed by villagers if they stray onto their land

A tiger which strayed into villages near the Sundarbans mangroves of Bangladesh has been successfully released into the wild, officials say.

Conservationists say it is the first time a tiger in Bangladesh has been freed after it was tranquilised.

In the past, experts say, local people would probably have shot or beaten the tiger to death.

Experts warn conflicts will only increase as humans and tigers compete for the same natural resources.

Indeed, it is so rare for a tiger to escape alive after straying into one of the villages bordering the Sundarbans mangrove forests in the south that conservationists have hailed this as a landmark battle to protect the endangered cats.

Village participation

The Royal Bengal tiger strayed into a village in the southern district of Satkhira on Saturday night.

The tiger was spotted by a village forest guard who immediately alerted wildlife officials. The tiger also attacked two people who tried to go near the animal.

After six hours, an expert team tracked the animal down and tranquilised it.

The tiger was then released into the wild about 40km (24 miles) away from the village on Sunday evening.

Conservationists say the villagers were aware of a new tiger initiative and co-operated with a local tiger response team. They insist that local participation is a key component in any tiger conservation effort.

"Human-animal conflicts occur very often in that region. So, we thought that if we don't involve the local people it will be difficult to conserve the tigers," Toufiqul Islam, assistant conservator of forests for the Sundarbans West Forest division, told the BBC.

Wildlife officials hoped that the latest incident will encourage more villagers to co-operate with the tiger response teams and the forest department.

The tiger response teams were given more training and equipment last year and many villages also have also set up local groups.

The training programmes were organized by the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh.

Last refuge

The Sundarbans mangrove forests which stretch between Bangladesh and India are one of the last refuges of the critically endangered Royal Bengal tiger.

Image caption Tigers in the Sundarbans stray into nearby villages when they suffer loss of habitat

On the Indian side of the Sundarbans, tigers which stray into villages are routinely caught and released back into the wild.

"We were unable to do this all these years because of lack of resources and trained personnel. We are now going to implement a regional tiger conservation project with the help of the World Bank," Dr Tapan Kumar Dey, conservator of forests with the Bangladesh Forest Department, told the BBC.

He hopes the situation will improve once the project gets underway.

It is estimated that around 400 tigers live in the Sundarbans. When tigers suffer from loss of habitat or a decline in the species they feed on, they stray into nearby villages. As a result, human-animal conflicts occur.

Official figures show that in 2010, at least 44 people and three tigers were killed in human-animal conflict. On average, forest officials say three tigers are killed by people every year.

Tigers are an endangered species. There are only about 3,500 left in the wild worldwide - less than one third of them breeding females.

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