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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 December 2007, 00:22 GMT
Where tigers and people fight for space
By Alastair Lawson
BBC News, Katakhali village, Bangladesh

Dead royal Bengal tiger
More and more tigers are killed after encounters with villagers

On 23 January 2006, Bangladeshi wildlife ranger Abdul Rob received an urgent telephone call at his base on the fringes of the Sundarbans mangrove forest.

A royal Bengal tiger had been surrounded by hundreds of people living in the village of Katakhali - near his outpost - and they were threatening to beat it to death because they believed it had been attacking their livestock.

Officials say a similar kind of incident has happened 26 times in the last nine years in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh - the world's largest mangrove forest and the main habitat of tigers in the country.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the tiger has been killed.

'Ludicrous suggestion'

"Far more tigers are killed in these kind of incidents than by poachers," said Mr Rob.

Nazrul Islam points to where he first saw the tiger
(The tiger's) claw ripped into my chest, I was frightened it was going to go for my neck
Katakhali villager Nazrul Islam

"When we arrived at the village it was a distressing scene. The tiger was trapped in a paddy field and thousands of people now surrounded it, preventing it from escaping to the jungle.

"Eight people had earlier been wounded trying to capture the animal, and the villagers were intent on killing it.

"Many were injured because a local official had suggested to them that they should try and capture the tigers using fishing nets - a ludicrous suggestion which made a desperate situation even worse."

'Slingshots'

Nazrul Islam was one of the villagers present throughout the stand-off.

He says that he was one of the first to discover the tiger in the paddy field early in the morning.

"We wanted to frighten the animal off, and initially tried to do so by firing stones at it with slingshots," he said.

"When that didn't work, we tried to make a loud noise by clattering pieces of scrap metal with sticks. Later the police arrived and fired hundreds of blank shots, but all to no avail."

Tiger foot print in Joymonir Ghol
Tigers frequently roam around Sundarbans villages

Mr Islam was one of the villagers who tried to catch the stricken animal using a fishing net.

"I remember at the time thinking maybe it wasn't such a good idea, but everyone wanted the animal to be driven away because of the dangers it posed to humans and livestock.

"I remember the tiger knocking my friend to the ground. I had no option but to try and save him, so it turned on me. Its claw ripped into my chest, I was frightened it was going to go for my neck, but I was able to stop it inflicting further injuries by repeatedly punching its mouth."

Exhausted

The tiger was stopped from harming him further after villagers with wooden batons attacked it, rendering it temporarily unconscious.

Even so, Mr Islam was severely injured in his two-minute encounter, and still has to pay 3,000 Taka ($44) a month for medical treatment.

Eventually Mr Rob and his men were able to seal off the area. After an 18 hour ordeal, the tiger - exhausted and wounded by its violent encounters with the villagers - was able to limp back to the jungle.

Mr Rob argues that villagers tend to over-react when they hear of a tiger in the area, in part because they are scared it will attack them and in part because they are scared it will attack their livestock.

Villagers in Katakhali
The tiger was surrounded by thousands of villagers

"They should leave the job to the experts," he said, "because it's not difficult to chase them away if you know what you're doing."

Witnesses say that the only reason why the tiger was not killed in his incident was because there were some foreign tourists present, and the villagers did not want to kill it in front of them.

Mr Rob points out that that the pressure for land and living space in Bangladesh has meant that forestry guards - whose job is to protect tigers - often come into conflict with villagers.

This is a part of Bangladesh where subsistence farming is commonplace and where farmers often have no other source of income apart form that provided by their cattle and goats.

Bangladesh is a country the size of England but with a population that is more than twice the size.

"Every year the pressure for land space means that humans encroach more and more into the tigers' territory," said Mr Rob.

"Tigers are territorial animals and there is every possibility it might come to this village, where a similar fate awaits it. The villagers have repeatedly said to us that either we take care of the tiger or they will kill it.

"Unless we are able to find areas for tigers to live in free from human interference, the future for them looks bleak," he said.

SEE ALSO
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Brave wife 'fends off' big tiger
10 Jul 06 |  South Asia
Bengal tigers to be counted
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03 Apr 02 |  South Asia

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