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Monday, April 23, 2012

July date for Indo-Bangla joint tiger census

TNN | Apr 23, 2012, 12.58AM IST KOLKATA: Finally, there will be a joint survey across 10,200 square kilometres of Sunderbans, spread across Bangladesh and India, this July to determine the exact number of tigers on the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The numbers, given by the Bangladeshi forest department and its Indian counterparts till date, are disputed on the ground that big cats frequently cross over the Indo-Bangla border. Every time, Sundarbans authority in India or that of Bangladesh comes up with their respective tiger census figures, they are disputed on the ground of tigers' frequent crossing over the political Indo-Bangla border. Bangladesh and India have signed a protocol to prevent poaching and smuggling of the tigers and their body parts from their sanctuaries. According to the protocol, the two countries will undertake joint scientific research, launch projects to promote understanding and knowledge of Royal Bengal tigers, develop information systems, share research, and exchange personnel for training and education. "There will be an attempt to conduct the tiger census simultaneously in Sunderbans on either side of the border using a common methodology. If necessary, Wildlife Institute of India ( WII) will help the Bangladesh Sunderbans officials with technical expertise for conducting the census," said sources. According to the last tiger census in 2003, there are 440 tigers in Bangladesh. On the other hand, a census in 2006 had claimed that Indian Sunderbans had 270 tigers, which was disputed by wildlife experts. The latest tiger census in India, conducted in 2010, pegged the big cat numbers in Sunderbans between 60 and 90. But the cross-border movement has always put question mark on the claims. According to the protocol, two countries will start patrolling of the waterways that crisscross the mangrove forests on their respective sides to prevent poaching of tigers. The wildlife monitoring is extremely important to the management to ascertain how the species are responding to the current management practices. Based on monitoring results, the necessary changes are made in the management practices to make those more effective. "The tiger estimation has traditionally been done in Sunderbans by using pugmark method, where the fresh left hind leg pug mark impression is collected from the field and analysed," said a Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve officer. The method was field-friendly but due to some drawbacks, Project Tiger developed a new methodology - Status of Tigers, Co-predators and Prey. Later, camera trapping, DNA tests were included to ascertain the range of tiger population in Indian Sunderbans. All these, forest department officers said, began during the tenure of Jairam Ramesh as Union environment and forest minister. Ramesh had suggested that India and Bangladesh should join hands to protect the Sunderbans from environmental degradation by forming Indo-Bangladesh Sunderbans Eco-System Forum. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh headed to Dhaka, he formalized Ramesh's forum through a specific Indo-Bangladesh Bilateral Environmental Treaty for the Sunderbans. The treaty was to facilitate implementation of the programmes under the forum and mandate inclusive and coordinated reform between the two nations at state, district and grass roots levels. This, according to an official, will help tackle the problems of sensitive ecosystems as a whole rather than in the separate and piecemeal form, currently the norm in both countries. The joint relocation and emergency evacuation programme was considered for sudden climate disasters such as cyclones or flooding. Both nations can use their strong grass roots institutions to ensure policies are practically implemented. Micro-credit programmes like micro-loans for livelihoods and micro-insurance for environmental disasters are also being worked out. Several proposals are being thought for joint and simultaneous execution by both India and Bangladesh. There is no dearth of funds. Last year, the Centre had allocated Rs 300 crore, from the Rs 1,156-crore Integrated Coastal Zone Management project for West Bengal and most of it for Indian Sunderbans. The funds were for prevention of erosion of the islands, building of storm shelters, promotion of ecotourism and livelihood improvement. In addition, a Rs 450 crore central grant was announced for strengthening embankments at critical areas in the Indian Sunderbans. Bangladesh has similar allocations - Rs 700 crore - for its Sunderbans.

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