Thursday, October 21, 2004

Bangladesh Sees Tiger Numbers Up in Mangrove Swamps

DHAKA, Bangladesh — The number of tigers in Bangladesh's mangrove swamps has risen by more than 50 to 419 in the last decade, thanks to the government's steps to save the endangered species, the Environment and Forest Minister said recently.

"The number of tigers in the Sundarbans has risen to 419 from 362 a decade ago," Tariqul Islam told a news conference, announcing the result of a census in the mangroves early this year.

The Sundarbans, as the mangrove swamps are known, stretches into India's eastern state of West Bengal, is about 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Dhaka, and is home to a wide variety of wildlife, but its chief attraction is the tiger.

It forms a fragile ecosystem that is being ravaged by the pressures of population and the weak enforcement of environmental regulations.

Forest officials said greater surveillance against poachers and reduced human interference with wildlife had helped the tiger population to recover.

Authorities redoubled protection efforts in the mangroves after the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization declared the area a World Heritage site in 1997.

Islam said census takers had scoured the 6,000-square-km (2,320-square-mile) wetlands from Feb. 26 to March 3 and collected 1,546 tiger paw prints to fix the numbers of the big cats.

They said the tiger population fell to about 362 in 1993 from 450 in 1982 because of deforestation caused by poachers and illegal loggers.

India did a census of tigers in its 4,000-square-km (1,545-square-mile) portion of the Sundarbans in January.

About 3 million people live in the portion of the swamps that belong to Bangladesh and 3.5 million more in the Indian portion in the neighboring state of West Bengal.

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