The Village Tiger Response Team (VTRT), a community volunteer group supported by local conservation organisation WildTeam, has been awarded the ‘Bangabandhu Award for Wildlife Conservation 2017’ for its outstanding contributions to protecting critically endangered Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handed over the award at a function marking the inauguration of the World Environment Day, National Tree Plantation Campaign 2017 and Environment Fair & Tree Fair 2017 at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the city on Sunday.
“We believe people are the solution, and the VTRT members have proved that the community is the best game-changer for the nature. The award makes us all proud of VTRTs and the extraordinary efforts they have been putting together to secure a better future for tigers in the Sundarbans,” WildTeam Chief Executive Prof Dr Md Anwarul Islam told UNB.
WildTeam, as a non-profit organisation, has been working for biodiversity and nature conservation since 2003 and it received this prestigious award, ‘Bangabandhu Award for Wildlife Conservation’, in 2011.
The VTRT was introduced in the Bangladesh’s part of the Sundarbans in 2007 by WildTeam to safeguard the critically endangered Bengal tigers and other wildlife through promoting conservation practices among the community people living around the Sundarbans portion.
Currently, a total of 49 VTRTs comprising 340 members are working in the world’s largest mangrove forest to check retribution killing of tigers, reduce livestock depredation by tigers, and increase community capacity to deliver more efficient tiger-human conflict management, forest working safety and sustainable use of forest resources.
Talking about the award, WildTeam Chairman and UNB Editor-in-Chief Enayetullah Khan said: “The award is a great recognition of the selfless volunteers who have been working hard to make the Sundarbans safer both for the human and wildlife.”
He said WildTeam is also extremely proud of its outstanding community conservation efforts in the Sundarbans through the VTRTs.
Environment and Forests Minister Anwar Hossain Manju said wildlife conservation will be possible with only support from the conservation groups and organisations working in the country.
“Bangabandhu Award for Wildlife Conservation has been given to conservationists or organisations without considering their individual identities. So, no one can raise any question as the award was conferred on two conservationists or one organisation in a fair and transparent manner,” he added.
Greeting the VTRT for wining the Bangabandhu Award for Wildlife Conservation 2017, acting Environment and Forests Secretary Istiaque Ahmad said the government cannot conserve wildlife and environment alone and that is why it seeks support from NGOs and conservation organisations to do so.
WildTeam is also the key implementing agency of USAID’s Bengal Tiger Conservation Activity (Bagh), a four-year (2014-18) Project dedicated to tiger conservation in the Sundarbans in collaboration with the Forest Department with technical support from the Smithsonian Institution and Bangladesh Centre for Advance Studies.
In line with WildTeam’s strategic priorities, Bagh has been supporting the VTRTs for empowering the local communities to deliver a sustaining conservation impact in the Sundarbans periphery.
Currently, WildTeam is leading the implementation of USAID’s Bengal Tiger Conservation Activity – Bagh,. WildTeam and Zoological Society of London jointly formed Noazesh Knowledge Centre (NKC), Bangladesh’s first knowledge centre exclusively for nature conservation studies.
According to the WildTeam officials, the VTRTs rescued and set free three tigers and over 210 other wild animals from 2012 to 2016. The dedicated volunteer group also effectively managed 30 stray tiger incidents (sending back stray tigers to the forest) and recovered the bodies of 24 tiger-attack victims during the period.
They also provided emergency first-aid to seven people injured in tiger attacks and held a total of 1,487 village meetings to raise awareness and respond to emergency human-tiger conflicts from 2012 to 2016.
WildTeam has so far included 20 women volunteers in the VTRTs to foster gender mainstreaming in its community-led conservation efforts, WildTeam Coordinator Mahbubul Alam said adding that the VTRT members also helped the Forest Department and firefighters respond quickly to two fire incidents that took place in the Sundarbans in April 2016.
He said every VTRT member symbolises bravery, courage and leadership in their community and the award will help create a more sustainable institutional format and mobilise new resources for this volunteer group.
In 2008, the Sundarbans Tiger Project (STP) came under the umbrella of WildTeam which is currently known as TigerTeam initiative, a joint initiative of the University of Minnesota and the Bangladesh Forest Department, supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Since then, WildTeam has worked predominantly in the Sundarbans mangrove forest ecosystem, home to the Bengal Tiger, a flagship species for the ecosystem and symbol of pride for Bangladesh.