Smuggling Tigers Big Business in the Sunderbans
KOLKATA: The beast of poaching may have reared its ugly head after four years in the Sunderbans, a reserve much feted for its conservation programmes.
The death of a tiger cub in the Sunderbans last month and the capture of three cubs a few days later on the Bangladeshi sides of the mangroves have triggered suspicion that the dead cub might have been from the same litter that was being smuggled top Malaysia and may have been killed by poachers. The National Tiger Conservation Authority of India ( NTCA) – which has made a poaching probe mandatory for all unnatural tiger deaths – is yet to give its verdict on the death of the two-month-old cub on June 5. But tiger conservationists in India and Bangladesh are sniffing a link between the two incidents as the three cubs – two females and a male and about two months old – were rescued on June 10, just five days after the body of the dead cub was found floating on the Raimangal river. The narrow river acts as the border between India and Bangladesh. The cubs being smuggled to Malaysia were captured in Halde Bunia forests, just across the river in Bangladesh, less than 2km from the forests on the Indian side. The two Bangladeshi poachers who captured the cubs had managed to make their way to Dhaka before being arrested.
The twin incidents come nearly a year after India signed two MoUs with Bangladesh on the conservation of the Sunderbans and the Royal Bengal Tiger. The pledge, however, seems confined to papers. Experts now believe a joint Indo-Bangla joint poaching racket is operating in the thick mangroves.
Sudipto Dutt, member of the state wildlife board, said it was possible that the poachers were attacked by a tiger and couldn’t capture all the cubs. “One cub might have got separated from its mother and died later. Since the place is very close to the Indian border, the body might have floated to the Indian side. A simple DNA analysis of the cubs can solve the riddle. And this will also open new avenues of international cooperation between two countries,” Dutt said. Echoing his view, another member of the state wildlife board, Biswajit Roy Chowdhury, said they would soon approach the forest minister to take up the matter with the Centre. “We will raise the issue in the next meeting of the board. There should be proper probe before dubbing any tiger death natural,” he said.
Monirul Khan, associate professor of zoology at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka, called for a joint probe into the death of the cub. “Halde Bunia forests, from where the cubs were captured in Bangladesh, as confessed by one of the arrested poachers, is very close to the Indian border. It’s hardly a kilometre or two from the Indian forests of Arbesi and separated only by the Raimangal. With poachers striking so close to the border, there should be joint probe to track the origin of the crime,” he said.
Yusuf Ali, chief conservator of forests, Bangladesh, added, “They have also confessed that one of their members were killed after a tigress attacked him while trying to protect the cubs. However, the kingpins of the poaching racket are still on the run and we are yet to know what happened to the mother.”
Though there has been no official case of tiger poaching in Indian Sunderbans since 2008, reports of tiger body parts seizure is nothing new in the state. In 2010-11 alone, five tiger skulls and four tiger skins were seized in Bengal.
However, the Indian foresters are in dark over the Bangladesh incident. “It’s true that there are two MoUs between the countries, but field level implementation is yet to be done. Unless that’s done, we cannot approach our Bangladeshi counterparts officially. Our hands are tied,” said Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve director Pradeep Vyas, adding that there have been reports, of late, that cases of poaching are on the rise in the Bangladesh Sunderbans. Bangladesh CCF Ali said that they are ready to help India in probing the cub death. “For that, the Indian officials should approach us,” he added.