Four people were shot dead by Bangladesh police on Wednesday during a gunfight in the middle of a mangrove forest that holds one of the world’s largest wild populations of tigers. The four people were accused of illegally poaching Bengal tigers.
When the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) confronted the poachers on a boat in the Sundarban—the world’s largest mangrove forest—the men opened fire, according to spokesman Mizanur Rahman. The four bodies, guns and ammunition were later recovered from the boat.
A large portion of the Sundarban has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site and the area is teeming with people who have been accused of crimes such as murder and abduction, in addition to poaching.
In 2004, a tiger census revealed there were about 440 Bengal tigers on the Bangladeshi side of the Sundarban. That number dropped sharply over the next 10 years when another tiger census revealed only 106 Bengal tigers remained. Thanks to a recent campaign to crack down on illegal poaching, that number rose to 114 in 2018.
According to RAB official Tajul Islam, the four men were members of a rogue gang in the Sundarban accused of poaching in an area were endangered Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins are located.
“These gangs have become a major threat to wildlife conservation,” Islam told AFP.
Since 2004, around 400 people have been arrested by the RAB on the rivers and canals in the Sundarban and another 120 or more have been killed in confrontations.
Last year Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared the campaign against criminals in the Sundarban a success. In a recent campaign, some 200 people exchanged their weapons for cash, mobile phones and legal aid.
While the campaign is indeed proving successful thus far, Bangladesh’s Bengal tigers are facing a new threat. Approximately 70 percent of the Sundarban lies just feet above sea level and, as such, a recent study published in the journal Science Direct, has predicted a dramatic loss of habitat for the Bengal tiger due to the combined effects of climate change and sea-level rise. The report predicts that tigers may vanish completely from the Sundarban by 2070.
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