Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sundarbans Wildlife

The SWOT team has now completed our survey work of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for tourism in the Sundarbans Reserve of Bangladesh. Two days were spent on local boats, called Joly Boats in areas near the port of Mongla, where local people primarily visit. The small Forest Post of Krimangal is the home of a breeding center of the endangered saltwater crocodile. We observed the feeding of the captive breeders, Romeo and Juliet - so named by their croc manager. Romeo is pictured here. The post suffers from serious over visitation and problems with management of tourism, which we documented.

We moved on to observe the Katka area via a Sunderbans Guide Tours boat, hosted by its owner Hasan Mansur. We were very grateful to him for accompanying our team as we observed the management issues related to this popular point, where many overnight ships visit. Here we were able to observe the Spotted Dear in some abundance. According to an IUCN study there are over 6000 deer in this area, making tasty prey for the resident Bengal Tiger. According to the same study, this is the area of highest density for the tiger populations in the reserve, but they thankfully concentrate on eating the deer, and there are no incidents of man eating in this area.

Men were cutting thatch in this area for roofing for their houses with permits from the Forest Department.

Yesterday, we traveled to Burigoalini by car to visit Kolagachia Forest Post, which has a lovely trail on raised mud paths in the flooded forest, teaming with wildlife even in the hot, mid-day sun. This owl was observed in close quarters, much to our surprise.

The honey collectors were gathering in this area, for their annual,highly dangerous journey into the forests in this Western region of the reserve. On April 1, they race into the forest by boat on inauguration day of the harvest season. Honey collector teams were practicing their racing skills as we passed heading into the reserve. Last year nearly 1500 individuals entered for honey collection, on 191 boats. Over 30 were killed by tigers. This dangerous profession continues to attract the collectors, as the Sundarbans honey is considered to be some of the best in the world. Our team interviewed a Sundarbans honey vendor who was financing the honey collectors and profiting with approximately $8000 in sales from the collection after expenses.

Our data, now completed, will be written up in April and provided to the Forest Department, Department of Environment, and Fisheries and other opinion leaders who are seeking to improve livelihoods for the Sundarbans "stakeholders" who use the forest for a wide variety of livelihoods. As opposed to my notes earlier,there are no communities living within the boundaries of the reserve. All are outside, but it is estimated that nearly 1 million intrepid souls enter the reserve for wood, honey, thatch and other resources supporting as many as 3 million people all dependent on the Sundarbans for their livelihoods. Tourism will be a very small part of the solution and planning program - as the need for investment in tourism planning and management must precede further tourism development throughout this region.

But our data process enabled a team of 9 Bengalis to come to a much greater understanding of how tourism planning and research takes place. This is a genuine investment in the future of tourism planning in Bangladesh, and our team did an outstanding job!

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