Bangladesh Begins Tiger Census in Fragile Wetlands
Foresters and volunteers set out in speedboats to hunt for tiger paw prints, or pugmarks, in the 2,350-sq-mile swampy forests that teem with ferocious crocodiles.
"The census will help us determine how fast the number of endangered tigers is falling due to natural causes, poaching and human interference in the wildlife," Forest Conservator Ali Kabir Hyder told Reuters.
The campaign will run until March 3 and involve 252 people divided into 32 groups, which will be accompanied by medical teams and armed security squads.
The program, jointly funded by the government of Bangladesh and the United Nations Development Program, was kicked off by Shahjahan Siraj, minister for environment and forests, at Chandpai, 250 miles southwest of Dhaka, the capital.
Census workers will make plaster molds of pugmarks to fix age, weight and gender of individual animals and finally, the total of Royal Bengal Tigers.
The Sunderbans, as the wetlands are known, form a fragile ecosystem that is being ravaged by the pressure of population and weak enforcement of environmental regulations.
About three million people live in the portion of the swamps that belongs to Bangladesh, and 3.5 million more in the Indian portion in the neighboring state of West Bengal, the UNDP says.
India last month counted the tigers in its 1,563-sq-mile portion of the Sundarbans, and combined survey results will be released in July.
There were 362 Bangladeshi wetland tigers in 1993, down from 450 in 1982, forest officials say. In the Indian wetlands, there were 271 tigers in 2001, down from 284 in 1999, due to natural deaths, Indian officials say.