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3 March, 2017 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 2 March, 2017 11:11:57 PM
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World Wildlife Day today

Tiger, tiger, burning bright in the jungles of CHT

Young biologists and locals are engaged in a quest for the Royal Bengal Tiger in Chittagong Hill Tracts
FAISAL MAHMUD
Tiger, tiger, burning bright in the jungles of CHT

With strong determination and a set of basic instruments, a young group of scientists and conservationists from Bangladesh has been able to unearth evidence that supports a theory about finding Royal Bengal Tigers in the remote forests of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The scientists and conservationists from Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) had found a 13-cm pugmark in the remote Sangu Matamuhuri range of Bandarban in mid-February last year. After analysing it, the experts opined that it was the pugmark of a Royal Bengal Tiger.
Talking to The Independent, Sahriar Ceaser Rahman, a conservation biologist and the co-founder of CCA, said he and his team have since set up camera traps where they discovered the pugmark, with the hope of proving that tigers roam the CHT.
After February last year—when they had found the pugmark—the rainy season started and they did not place any camera trap in the forest as it would have been a futile practice. “We were waiting for the dry season and, in December last year, we again put some camera traps inside the forest.”
Rahman, however, said they had placed only five camera traps inside an area of 2,332 hectares. “It’s very hard to capture a snapshot of tiger with such a small number of cameras, as a single tiger usually roams around in an area

of 200 sq. km.” He said for covering such an area, they require at least 30 camera traps, but a dearth of funding and apt manpower has prevented them from doing so. Rahman said they have been working in the deep forests of the Sangu Matamuhuri range for the past five years, partnering with the locals and securing support from Bangladesh’s forest department.
“We are employing locals to work as parabiologists for us. Many of them are former hunters. They used to go to forest to set traps to kill endangered wildlife. Now they are equipped with camera traps and GPS to learn more about them and to protect them,” explained Rahman.
This young biologist completed his graduation from the US. He came back to Bangladesh in 2010 to work on several research and conservation projects. Rahman has a keen interest in reptiles and amphibians, and first started a telemetry study of the Burmese python in the northeast of Bangladesh.
He then visited CHT for the first time in 2011, primarily to explore the area to survey for pythons and other herpeto-fauna in general. Mesmerised by the rich biodiversity of the country’s largest forest, he decided to make CHT his primary area for research and conservation works.
Rahman said the rich CHT rainforest falls within the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot, which is the habitation of many globally threatened species. Since they started exploring the area, they documented over 26 globally threatened species within just 350 sq. km of forests in the region.
Locals have long been saying that there is a tiger habitation inside the reserve forest. “We had met people who claimed that they had seen a tiger with their own eyes. However, there was no evidence to support their claims.”
A member of Tripura tribe in Rung Shola Para, which is under Remakri union at Thankchi upazila of Bandarban, possessed the skin of a Royal Bengal tiger, which that person had killed in 2012. But he later sold the skin to a group of poachers from Myanmar.
Dr Monirul H Khan, professor of Zoology of Jahangirnagar University, also mentioned in his book ‘Tigers in the Mangroves’ the possibility of finding Royal Bengal Tigers in the deep forest of CHT.
Khan, who did his Ph.D. on the Royal Bengal Tiger from Cambridge University, said the possible tiger habitation could be found in Kasalong and Sangu-Matamuhuri reserve forests in Bandarban. He told The Independent that during his numerous visits to the deep forests of CHT, he had met tribal people who had had encounters with tigers.
“I even found a bottle of tiger fat in a local village near Raingkheong reserve forest. The tribal people kept that fat as they used it as medicine,” said Khan, an adviser to CCA.
“So there was basically no physical evidence to support the claims of finding tigers there aside from that bottle of tiger fat. The pugmark discovered by the CCA consolidates the chances of proving the theory of finding Royal Bengal Tigers in the forest of CHT,” said Khan.
Rahman agreed that finding the tiger pugmark in the area is one of CCA’s significant discoveries. He, however, is not overwhelmed by this find, because the CHT forests are part of a contiguous chain of mountains and forests linking the Himalayas in the north and the Arakan-Yoma Hill Ranges to the south.
“The tiger pugmark that we saw could be one of just a wandering individual that had come from the ‘nearby’ tiger population located in this long range spanning over 237,820 sq. km in both India and Myanmar.”
That means unless a cross-border joint survey is conducted, finding the actual number of tigers and the actual location of the tiger population in this area would remain a near impossible task. “From our end, we will continue trying. If we get a snapshot of tiger in one of our camera traps, then that would be a good discovery for us.”
Rahman noted that the rich rainforest of the CHT has all the elements to be a proper conservation area for a large animal like the Royal Bengal tiger. “If we can protect and restore a few forest patches, it could provide habitation to a large number of critically endangered species,” he added.
Dr Khan, too, said the whole CHT region should be deemed a ‘tiger restoration landscape’, with tiger corridors between the CHT and neighbouring India and Myanmar. This could go a long way towards fulfilling Bangladesh’s pledge to support the Global Tiger Initiative, which has promised to double the world’s tiger numbers by 2020.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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