Villagers run after a tiger that has just killed a local woodcutter. Photo: Monirul Alam.

Thirty people were killed by tigers in Bangladesh last year, and three tigers by people. Keen to preserve the almost-extinct Royal Bengal Tiger, the authorities' advice to people who come under attack is to call the forest ranger, who will arrive with a tranquilizer gun. But that can take up to 12 hours...

The Royal Bengal Tiger, of which there are an estimated 440 left, lives in the Sundarban mangrove forest - recently designated a UN world heritage site - which lies across the Ganges delta, in Bangladesh and India. The waterways which the forest sits on are also home to a population of fishermen and farmers, whose villages were recently wiped out - twice - by the 2007 Sidr and 2009 Aila cyclones, in which thousands were killed.

Following the catastrophes an increasing number of villagers took to searching for food in the forest - the home of the tigers. Although the beasts normally prey on deer and wild boar, they too have been crossing into their neighbours' territory on the prowl for food. On January 31 two fisherman were killed by tigers in separate incidents, and on Monday (Feb. 22), a woman was attacked by an adult tiger at her home in Sonagna, near the border with India.

The first tiger to be killed in the area this year was beaten to death by villagers from Satkhira on Jan 22, after they gave up waiting for the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh to turn up with tranquilizers.

Getting close to a Royal Bengal

A Royal Bengal tiger spotted by Flickr user "Stefan @ India" on the Indian side of the Sundarbans. Posted Sept. 28, 2009. 

“The situation became overwhelming for the authorities and the tiger was beaten to death by the crowd”

A wildlife group that works towards the survival of tigers posted the following account of a tiger which was killed by villagers on their blog. The Sundarban Tiger Project (STP) promotes stunning of tigers rather than killing them.

In the early hours of 22nd January [2010] a tiger was discovered several kilometres into a village in Satkhira. The WTB team were asked by the Forest Department [FD] and a local politician to help so we came from Dhaka to Satkhira by road as fast as we could [500 km and in good conditions, 10 hours]. (...) We thought that if we could reach there in time we may have been able to help the FD immobilise the tiger and transport it to back to the relative safety of the forest. The WTB-FD Tiger Response Team were on the site early on and helped keep everything quiet while the FD staff arrived, together with some Bangladesh Rifles staff (BDR).

Normally in these types of situations the tiger is killed very quickly but the FD, BDR, and local politician were able to coordinate the villagers so that the tiger remained safe for over 12 hours. Unfortunately as the day progressed the crowd swelled too many thousands and tensions built on all sides as the tiger sheltered in a village hut. Near sundown the situation became overwhelming for the authorities and the tiger was beaten to death by the crowd. (...)

The WTB team arrived an hour and a half too late. We examined the body and estimated, from the tooth wear, that the tiger was about 4-5 year old."

“They know the dangers of the forest, but have no other means of survival”

Monirul Alam is a photojournalist and blogger from Dhaka. He was in Satkhera, south Sundarban forest, when a woodcutter was killed by a tiger in the forest.

Since Cyclone Sidr [November 2007] and Cyclone Aila [May 2009], when 1,000 people who lived near to the water had their homes flooded and were forced to move inland, the conflict between tiger and human has risen to a new level here. Hungry people now risk facing a tiger attack everyday when they go into the forest looking for food. One villager told me ‘We enter the jungle searching for food and the tiger kills us . . . the tiger comes to our village, we kill the tiger'.

I took these photos on February 6 in southern Sundbaran . A Bengal tiger had just killed a 40-year-old woodcutter called Mabud, deep in the mangrove forest when he was collecting firewood in the area of Char-Shesher. One of his fellow woodcutters, Abul Sarder, told me that five of them entered the jungle to collect firewood and suddenly a tiger attacked them. ‘When we had escaped we realised that Mabud had not. We tried to save him but failed to fight off the tiger.'

They then ran back to the village and brought more than 120 villagers with sticks, Potka (local made fireworks that make a cracking sound), Kuthers (wood-chopping axes)and Das (heavy knives), in order to get Mabud's body back from the tiger. They did, finally, but were afraid that the hunter might come back to the village still hungry.

Carrying Mabud's body back.

Abul said that they know the dangers of the forest, but have no other means of survival. The embankment has collapsed three times within the last two years, flooding their homes and ruining their livelihoods, and pushing them further towards the forest."

Villagers crowd around to see Mabud's body.