The Bangladesh government is thinking about reintroduction of Bengal Tigers in Chattogram Hill Tracts, where tigers were native even a few decades ago.
Chief Conservator of Forests Md Amir Hosain Chowdhury revealed this while addressing an e-conference on tiger conservation on Thursday.
Talking about the plan, Abdul Aziz, a professor of the Department of Zoology at Jahangirnagar University, said, "Keeping all eggs in one basket is certainly not a good idea. But before doing anything like that, we need to assess a few issues – habitat condition and prey base – to determine if there are sufficient preys for tigers in that area."
"Secondly, there are communities scattered all over Chattogram Hill Tracts. We must take that into consideration too."
Amir said the government had commissioned a feasibility study in this regard last month.
"Starting from August this year, we are hopeful that we will be able to complete the study by next June. Based on the report, the government will decide whether to reintroduce tigers in the Chattogram Hill Tracts or not," he said.
The e-conference titled "Tiger Conservation and Community Participation: Transboundary Experience Sharing" was jointly organised by the Bangladesh National Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Asia Regional Committee of the same organisation. Experts from four tiger range countries shared their experience of tiger conservation activities in their respective countries.
Dr Md Anwarul Islam, CEO of WildTeam and also a professor of Zoology at the University of Dhaka, talked about community participation in tiger conservation activities in Bangladesh.
A short film showed how organisations like WildTeam and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported the forest department in minimising human-wildlife conflict through SMART patrolling, the work of Village Tiger Response Team members, and the TigerScout programme formed by school children from areas around the Sundarbans.
The TigerScout programme also inspired activists in India. A video clip shown during the conference displayed the programme's activities being featured on Kolkata TV.
Dr Limin Feng, associate professor at Beijing Normal University, discussed how collaboration between China and Russia on tiger-leopard monitoring and conservation activities brought Amur Leopard back from the brink of extinction and led to the rise in Amur Tiger's population.
The two neighbouring countries established protected areas, and set up high-tech monitoring and management system combining artificial intelligence, camera traps, sensors, fast wireless network, real time transmission devices, satellites etc.
To demonstrate how efficient the monitoring system is, Dr Limin showed a video clip of a deer that was caught in the sensor just 20 minutes ago on the Sino-Russia border.
Dr Mayukh Chatterjee from the Wildlife Trust of India shared his country's experience of community participation in conservation efforts of tigers.
"In a country with 1.3 billion people, 2,967 tigers numerically do not seem to stand a chance," he said, hinting at human-tiger conflicts.
"But thanks to the ethos of 'living and letting live,' tigers have survived in a comparatively large number in the human-dominated landscapes of India."
The expert shared the history of India's tiger project that began in 1973. Under it, communities were relocated from tiger reserves. It led to the impression among the people that forests and tigers belong to the government, not to them.
But later, this approach of alienating people from nature was criticised, and the national forest policy as well as joint forest management guidelines were formulated, which paved the way for integrating local communities in conservation.
Joint forest management committees were formed across the country to give it a concrete foundation. They were linked together under forest development agencies, which turned them into certified organisations to implement certain conservation activities, such as afforestation and revival of forests.
Currently, India has over one lakh such committees who protect around 2.5 crore hectares of forestland jointly with the forest department.
Dr Mayukh said many among these committees are dysfunctional, and only exist on paper. He stressed the need to reactivate the committees.
"However, over the last two decades, several initiatives have come up to involve local people in conservation efforts. They are working to create a larger sense of ownership among the stakeholders," he added.
Professor Aziz pointed out that the Sundarbans is a single tiger habitat, though the forest is divided by the Raimangal river between the two countries. "Tigers do not know where Bangladesh or India is, and we have shared responsibilities in conserving this flagship species."
He raised the concern about dwindling fresh water supply to the Sundarbans due to man-made barriers on the Ganges and its distributaries, as well as how it is damaging the mangrove ecosystems by increasing salinity.
The professor identified it as a point where transboundary cooperation is required.
Dr Sanjay Kumar Shukla, additional principal chief conservator of forests at Madhya Pradesh Forest Department in India, described the new paradigm in conservation where an inclusive approach has been taken.
He pointed out some of such measures, such as sharing tourism revenues with local communities, community development through improvement in health services, and extending educational opportunities to the communities.
"The loss of human lives and crops antagonises people toward wildlife. So, the Indian government took measures to compensate the affected people, although that is plagued by insufficiency of funds."
Dr Shukla said the forest department of Madhya Pradesh is also strengthening the corridors through which tigers move between fragmented habitats, changing the land use pattern and educating people.
Dr Ramchandra Kandel from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in Nepal said that his country has also arranged to share 50 percent of tourism revenues with local communities in order to engage them in conservation efforts.
He said youths are engaged in anti-poaching activities in his country.
"Training for capacity enhancement of judiciary staffers is also going on. Through these measures, Nepal is achieving the goal of doubling tiger population."
Apart from disclosing the Bangladesh government's plan to look into the idea of reintroducing tigers in Chattogram Hill Tracts, the top forest conservator, Amir, also talked about the transboundary cooperation between Bangladesh and India, and how Bangladesh's forest department is benefitting from that.
While answering a question on increasing tiger population through farming, Professor Aziz dismissed the idea, saying there is no place of tiger farming in conservation although some countries are doing it for commercial purposes.
IUCN Asia Regional Director Aban Marker Kabraji and Professor Ma Keping, chair of Asia Regional Members Committee of the IUCN, also spoke at the conference.
Several tiger habitats lie on transboundary ranges between Bangladesh-India, Myanmar-Thailand and China-Russia. Speakers at the conference emphasised transboundary cooperation for conservation of the majestic mammal.
Professor Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, chair of the IUCN National Committee in Bangladesh, presided over the conference.