Last week, Sharankhola police arrested a man named Habib Talukder, who is said to have killed dozens of tigers in the Sundarbans in the last 20 years.
According to Habib, also known as 'Bagh Habib', there are at least 20 to 25 other poaching parties operating in this forest.
Reporters spoke with Habib at a jail cell in Bagerhat Court, so not much could be known from him of the poaching activities in the forest.
The Business Standard talked with experts who conducted research on poaching in the country, and tried to explore existing knowledge and knowledge gaps in this field.
Dr Samia Saif, who conducted the first ever PhD research on tiger poaching, trade and consumption in Bangladesh, identified five groups of people who kill tigers with differing motivations.
Firstly, the villagers. When tigers enter the villages mistakenly or in search of an easy meal, villagers kill tigers in order to protect themselves and their cattle.
Secondly, shikaries or the sport hunters. Ancestors of these people used to accompany British sport hunters as guides during the colonial period, and developed a habit of tracking down tigers and hunting them.
This activity continued with state sponsorship up to the Pakistan era, when rewards were often declared for killing tigers labelled as man-eaters.
Although hunting is illegal now, shikaries still exist, and they basically hunt due to passion for the activity.
Thirdly, the pirates who lived inside the forest. These people killed tigers for their own safety.
The fourth group of people are those who are professional deer hunters. These people accidentally hunt tigers when the latter get caught and killed in the traps set for the deer.
The final group, the most notorious of all, are the professional tiger poachers. This group kills deer or wild boars, poison them with pesticides, and use that to kill tigers for commercial purposes.
The motivation for killing tigers has changed over time, the researcher said.
When a tiger gets killed in a human-wildlife conflict, villagers collect different parts of the carcass for its perceived medicinal use, or just as a memento.
These parts include the pelt, canine teeth, tail, and flesh. Many of the villagers believe that a locket made of tiger teeth, or consumption of a small amount of flesh can cure certain diseases.
Even 15 years ago, there was no demand for the bones of a tiger around the forest, Dr Saif said. The demand was created as outsiders, i.e. traders from the towns started coming, looking for the item.
These traders offer a varied price for each kilogram of tiger bone. This is actually a part of a smuggling ring that supplies the item to international markets, especially those based in China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand.
And this commercial demand for tiger bone created additional motivation for tiger hunting in Bangladesh.
"The ordinary villagers who collect parts from a dead tiger for medicinal purposes or as souvenir would not go to the forest to hunt the animal. They do it only when a tiger gets killed around the village. It is the commercial demand that turns people into poachers," said Dr Saif, who wrote a book titled 'Investigating Tiger Poaching in the Bangladesh Sundarbans.'
Even the deer hunters may get motivated to hunt tigers for the same reason, the researcher added.
The pirates in the Sundarbans, equipped with guns, are known to have killed a lot of tigers. Although they have surrendered to law enforcing agencies, or got killed in 'crossfire', bringing an end to piracy in the forest, Samia says it would not have an impact on poaching.
The local poachers and traders operating in Bangladesh are not aware of the destination of poached tiger parts, Dr Samia Saif found out.
The route for smuggling tiger parts is also shrouded in mystery. In the past, poachers were caught operating through the capital.
In 2012, law enforcers rescued three Bengal tiger cubs from Shyamoli in Dhaka, and arrested two persons in this connection.
This year in March, a Chinese national was arrested with tiger bones at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport while trying to leave the country.
But land borders and waterways are also thought to be used for smuggling wildlife.
In 2017, two lion cubs and two leopard cubs were rescued from a car near Jashore. The consignment was headed towards an address adjacent to the border.
This indicated that Bangladesh is also used by the poachers as an international trade route, since none of the animals are native to Bangladesh.
Some fear that the Bangladesh-India water transit protocol routes operating through the Sundarbans might also be used by the poachers.
Asked about this, Dr M A Aziz, professor at the Department of Zoology, Jahangirnagar University said, "The vessels ply several rivers inside Sundarbans; namely Raimangal,
Arpangasia, and Shibsa, and they are often seen anchored here and there. This route is vulnerable, and it is not impossible that the route is used by the poachers given the lack of surveillance."
"Waterways are known to be used as illegal wildlife trading routes in other places of the world," the professor added. Poached tiger parts from Bangladesh are smuggled mainly through Northeast India and Myanmar, he said, emphasising the need for more research in this field.
Sincere investigation is imperative
Reports say Habib killed 70 tigers, while he boasted in front of his neighbours about killing 32 tigers.
He also mentioned that 20 to 25 rival groups are operating in the forest who kill tigers. Are these numbers statistically probable? There are doubts.
"70 seems exaggerated. But Habib is 50 years old now; it is possible that he was involved in the killing of 32 tigers in some capacity," said Dr Aziz.
Sincere investigation is required to bring out the real picture of tiger poaching in the country, the professor concluded.
Tiger population in the Bangladesh part of Sundarbans was 440 in 2004, which came down to 114 in recent years. Poaching is seen as the prime reason behind the decline in tiger population.