Dogs step in to help protect villagers from ‘Man-eating’ tigers
Tuesday 27 January 2009
Stray street dogs in Bangladesh are being trained to deter prowling tigers from village borders as part of an innovative conservation scheme.
Following the breaking news that three people were killed by Bengal tigers last week in the Sundarbans, conservationists from ZSL are hoping that dogs are not just man’s best friend - they may also prove to be the tiger’s best friend. For the first time, humans’ canine companions are being used to help protect man from tigers, and therefore, tigers from man.
Field staff from ZSL working on tiger conservation and research in the Bangladesh Sundarbans have a tough job persuading the locals to protect the endangered Bengal tiger from extinction, because it has gained a formidable reputation as a man-eater.
The Sundarbans in Bangladesh form the world’s largest mangrove forest and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The forests are dense and rich with wildlife, providing many resources for local communities – and they are also home to one of the largest surviving populations of wild tigers in the world. The tigers are the top predators of the forests, and ensuring their survival helps keep the wildlife of the forest in balance.
Around 50 people are killed each year by the tigers of the forest, and most at risk are those who have to work in or close to the forests’ borders. It is not completely understood why tigers become man-eaters but it is thought that some older, sick or injured tigers may find hunting humans easier than animal prey.
The human-tiger conflict in the Sundarbans is escalating and despite tigers being legally protected since 1974, many are still being killed in response or anticipation of attacks. It is estimated that there are only 300-500 tigers left in the area.
Conservationists Monirul Khan and Adam Barlow from ZSL are working on various projects to conserve tigers. One of which is training the local stray street dogs to act as a deterrent for any prowling tigers that come too close to the village borders. By alerting the villagers to a tiger’s presence, the animal can be frightened away instead of being hunted and killed.
Monirul Khan, a tiger biologist, has set up a trial study putting the local stray dogs to use. By training the street dogs to act as an alarm for the villagers when a tiger is approaching, the work will begin to ease the human-tiger conflict in the area. Although using dogs to protect humans from animal predators isn’t a new idea, it is the first time they have been used in the battle to save tigers from extinction.
The Sundarbans Tiger Project was recently visited by the BBC as part of the Natural World series. The documentary ‘Man-eating tigers of the Sundarbans’ can be seen on Friday 30th January on BBC2 at 8.00pm.