Living with Tigers
When tigers and humans clash, the results are violent and usually fatal. Lives on both sides are lost. Exploding human populations and ever-shrinking forests means the pressure is rising. With so few of these big cats left, finding solutions to human-tiger conflict has become one of the most urgent issues facing conservation today.
Bangladesh experiences the most intense form of human-carnivore conflict in the world; around one person a week is killed by a tiger and upwards of three tigers are killed per year, and those are only the ones we hear about.
With 300-500 tigers, Bangladesh has one of the largest remaining tiger populations in the world, but conflict is chipping away at this number. The loss of human life also leads to unnecessary human misery, increased economic hardship for already poor local people, and negative attitudes towards tigers. Perhaps understandably, if a tiger strays into a village, it is usually surrounded by thousands and beaten to death.
The Sundarbans Tiger Project (STP) started its conflict mitigation work in 2004 with the aim of reducing this century old problem. The project is a joint initiative of the Bangladesh government, the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh, and the Zoological Society of London.
To mitigate conflict situations, the project is building and training local community teams how to respond to tiger encounters. The teams are comprised of brave local villagers who have stepped forwards as volunteers to provide this service to their community. A total of 29 Village Tiger Response Teams (VTRT) made up of over 200 volunteers are posted along the forest-village interface. Their main task is to control the mob that forms when a tiger strays into a village and until our specialist team arrives to rescue the tiger by anaesthetising and moving it back to the forest.
The VTRTs are further supported by our boat-based Forest Tiger Response Team. This floating unit patrols high risk attack areas to keep forest workers away from those areas to avoid incidents in the first place. They also act as an in-forest ambulance, providing first aid and faster, motorised transport for attack casualties. But by far their bravest task is the retrieval of dead bodies so that they can be returned to their families for proper burial – taking a meal away from a tiger that has lost its fear of humans – one of the most dangerous jobs in conservation. They are on call round the clock and can be reached by the public on a Tiger Hotline.