Have you ever noticed just how many times you encounter a tiger in the course of a single day? Depicted in sculptures on roadways, at the back of rickshaws and trucks, in the colourful toys sold on footpaths, on the billboards of a hundred products, on the jerseys of our cricket team...tigers are everywhere. We have grown up calling them Bagh mama, read fairytales and folklores full of their strength and mystery, called anyone showing bravery a Bagher baccha. As a nation, whenever we have faced oppression or injustice, we have roared together like tigers. The Royal Bengal Tigers are and have always been an inseparable part of our identity as a nation.
Even at the beginning of the last century, a big part of the country was covered in forestland. Real tigers might have once passed through the path you walk over everyday – isn’t this a mindboggling thought? In just a hundred years, tigers have lost 90 percent of their home worldwide. Globally, their numbers have plummetted from 100000 to just over 3200. In Bangladesh, the estimated 440 tigers are now confined to the Sundarbans, their last remaining stronghold in the country. You might wonder how we got to this point. Surely, our national animal should not disappear silently from Bangladesh without us knowing or doing anything about it?
We have often been told that knowledge is power; nothing can be truer than this saying. If you know about the reasons that are hurting tigers, you will definitely find a way to do something about it. The biggest threat tigers face today is loss of their homeland. Tigers are used to living freely in areas as big as 25 square kilometers, so as forestlands shrink to make room for us, tigers have less and less space to live and hunt. Another alarming global threat is wildlife crime – illegal poaching and trafficking of tigers. The lower tiger numbers become, the higher rises demand for tiger products. Tiger skin is cherished as status symbols, tiger bones are used to make medicines – and in the mean time we keep on losing more and more tigers.
It is not possible to turn the tide individually; we need to stand beside those doing their utmost to contribute. Wildteam, the Bangladesh Government, with financial assistance from the United States Agency for International Development, has taken a strong stand to unite all tiger loving people, institutions and policymakers who intend to make a positive change for tigers through the Bagh Activity. As the name suggests, Bagh will address all issues related to the wellbeing of tigers, the need to know more about them, to fight the battle against wildlife crime, the need to ensure that the people depending on the Sundarbans for their livelihood can find eco-friendly alternatives in the future. As Bagh moves forward, hopefully we will learn more about the mysterious tigers of the Sundarbans mangroves, and about the role we can play to ensure that they continue to thrive.
Not many of us will be fortunate enough to see the amazing sight of a tiger in the wild, they are known for their solitary nature. You might visit the Sundarbans, spend hours in a serene canal, and never realize that a tiger is nearby. If you are lucky, you might see a pugmark, or hear a distant roar in the depths of the forest. But even if we do not see them with our own eyes, somehow knowing that they are roaming wild and free in the Sundarbans is strangely comforting. It is reassuring to know that the beautiful forest that has protected this water surrounded land against natural disaster for thousands of years, will always be protected in turn by their ancient guardian, the Royal Bengal Tiger.