The Rapid Action Battalion yesterday rescued three Bengal tiger cubs from a wildlife smuggler’s house at Shyamoli in the capital and arrested two persons in this connection. The cubs, about two months old, had been captured in the Sundarbans.
The trafficker’s son Zakir Hossain told the press that the cubs had been brought in for Tapan Kumar Dey, the chief of wildlife section of the forest department. Tapan, however, refuted the claim and said he was not involved in any wildlife crime.
Tapan often handles government funds to buy animals for Bangabandhu Safari Park in Gazipur.
Zakir said his elder brother Masud Hossain brought the cubs from the Sundarbans 12 days ago to supply them to Tapan.
His father Abdul Kader had supplied four marsh crocodiles, a gharial, and pythons to Tapan in 2002. Zakir claimed Tapan’s nephew Tapash used to “place orders” for animals.
Tapan had never paid for the gharial as he was hiding during the caretaker government, said Zakir whose father was arrested in 2001 with a leopard in the capital and served two months in jail.
Refuting the allegations against him, Tapan branded Zakir and his family as notorious wildlife traffickers. “Traffickers always raise such allegations against forest officials to camouflage their activities,” he said. He insisted that there was no need for tigers for the safari park now.
Tapan said the cubs would have been smuggled out of the country if Rab had not recovered them, as Zakir’s family had links with a network of international wildlife traffickers
Rab had followed the trail of the cubs following a report in a Satkhira newspaper that three cubs had been captured by poachers on May 16 in Haldebunia forests of Koikhali union in Satkhira. At the time, forest officials dismissed the report as false but Rab continued its effort.
Violating the wildlife law that strictly prohibits poaching, capturing, trapping or trading of wildlife, those cubs of a globally endangered mammal were captured and then brought to Dhaka.
AHM Anwar Pasha, executive magistrate of Rab, jailed Zakir and his mother Mosammed Jahanara Begum for two years as they confessed to the crime while main culprits Jahanara’s husband Abdul Kader and elder son Masud had fled.
As instructed by Pasha, the cubs were sent to a private mini zoo in Hatirpul. This is the first reported case that Bengal tiger cubs have been rescued in the capital.
Having been fed with human baby milk, the cubs — one male and two females — are now suffering from diarrhoea, said Zakirul Farid, veterinary surgeon of Dhaka Zoo.
Farid examined the cubs and said they were lacking proper nutrition and suffering from dehydration. Each cub should have weighed above 3kg but they were around 1.5kg on average, he added.
PLACE OF RECOVERY
Tipped-off, members of Rab-2 yesterday raided a four-storey building at Shyamoli and found the cubs on the ground floor.
A pet animal and bird trader, Abdul Kader has been living in the rented house on the ground floor for the last three years.
Rab arrested Abdul Kader’s wife Jahanara Begum, 47, and their elder son Zakir Hossain, 19. Kader went into hiding with his another son Masud during the raid.
Neighbours said they had seen Kader bring cages for animals and birds to the house but had never seen him entering the house or going out with any tiger or cub.
Magistrate AHM Anwar Pasha told The Daily Star that they had been conducting raids in Satkhira and Dhaka for about a month in search of the cubs.
Rab had information that the poachers had reached a negotiation with a party for selling each cub for Tk 20-Tk 60 lakh, he added.
Asked about the allegations against Tapan, Chief Conservator of Forest Yunus Ali said they would thoroughly investigate the matter and take steps if the allegation was proved to be true.
The forest department has opened an investigation against Tapan, said Anwar Pasha.
In a 2004 survey, the United Nations Development Programme estimated 450 tigers, including 21 cubs, in the Bangladesh territory of the Sundarbans.
The forest department has been running a World Bank-funded regional project to control illegal trading of wildlife and another project to save tigers by reducing man-tiger conflicts in the Sundarbans.
What to feed the cubs on and how to take care
The forest department does not have any officer who has the expertise to take care of the cubs.
Yunus Ali, chief conservator of forest, yesterday said they had communicated with Indian experts who suggested feeding the cubs on goat-milk.
Reza Khan, head of Dubai Zoo, and other eminent wildlife experts from Bangladesh told The Daily Star that such cubs should be fed with animal milk called Cimicat which contained less carbohydrate and more protein.
Soft chick or pigeon meat would be perfect for them. Cat’s food, preferably foreign-made or animal fillets could also be given to them, Reza Khan said over the phone.
Or if any pet dog or cat is found, the tiger cubs could be feed with their milk also, he said.
The Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB) recommended keeping the cubs under the wildlife rescue centre in India until they were old enough to be released into the Sundarbans. Bangladesh signed an MOU for the conservation of tigers and the Sundarbans during Indian prime minister’s visit to Dhaka last year.
The tiger cubs are too young to survive on their own, WTB said.
Bangladesh, one of the 14 Tigerian countries, has pledged to play an important role in Tiger conservation.
Environment and Forest Minister Hasan Mahmud earlier claimed on different occasions at home and abroad that the number of tigers in the Sundarbans in Bangladesh was increasing as their habitation was well protected.
Rapid Action Battalion personnel arrested a man along with three tiger cubs at a Shyamoli house in the capital on Monday.
Acting on a tip-off, a team of Rab-2 raided the ground floor of a multistoried building on Shyamoli Road-2 at noon and arrested one Zakir Hossain with the three one-month-old cubs of Bengal tigers.
Quoting Zakir, senior additional superintendent of police Raihanuddin Khan, also the operation officer of Rab-2, told The Daily Star that the cubs were brought here from the Sundarbans two to three days back in a bid to smuggle those to Malaysia.
Police were continuing their search for the other gang members involved in cub smuggling, the Rab official said.