Khulna (June 28, 2016) –In response to the threats of wildlife and forestry crime and illegal fishing to the Sundarbans—the world’s largest mangrove forest—the Government of Bangladesh through its Forest Department has expanded the scope of its current protection efforts. 

The Sundarbans are one of the major remaining strongholds for many highly threatened species including tigers, freshwater dolphins, otters, masked finfoot and estuarine crocodiles.

Central to this effort will be the adoption of SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) patrol management. This approach uses information collected from boat and foot patrols, intelligence sources, tour operators and fishing communities to inform managers about the distribution and intensity of threats to wildlife, fisheries and forests.

To that end, 16 officers from the Forest Department have been “trained to train” 30 staff who will be charged with leading front-line efforts to patrol the Sundarbans and suppress illegal activity.

The training, held on board the Forest Department’s wildlife monitoring vessel M.V. Banbilash, followed technical training on strengthening patrols in the Wildlife Sanctuaries for Freshwater Dolphins in November 2015, and a SMART training for trainers in May 2016.  Demonstrating that a patrol presence is important for reducing illegal activities, on the last day of training, ranger patrols encountered three illegal camps in the forest, and confiscated deer meat poached by the occupants.  Disrupting illegal activities, especially poaching, is a priority for law enforcement interventions by the SMART patrol teams. 

The SMART approach is a user-friendly combination of software, training materials, and implementation standards. Designed for use in front-line enforcement, SMART meets the needs of managers by providing access to information and easy to understand maps about the conservation area and the locations of threats. Patrolling data from SMART will strengthen the ability of conservation programs to combat wildlife poaching and other illegal activities. SMART empowers managers to plan a strategic response to forest crime and protected area enforcement.

The World Bank is providing support for implementation of patrolling efforts under the Strengthening Regional Cooperation for Wildlife Protection (SRCWP) Project. “The training is an extension of our efforts to protect the Sundarbans by using information management approaches,” said Mr. Zahir Ahmed, Conservator of Forests, Khulna Division. “The SMART patrolling approach will help us to better combat poaching, illegal fishing, vessel and pollution infractions, and other forest crimes. It will strengthen the capacity of our frontline staff, and at the same time build training capacity for forest protection within our ranks.”

The training of trainers and frontline staff training exercises are being organized in the framework of the German government commissioned, joint German - Bangladesh “Sundarbans Management Project” (SMP). SMP is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). SMP’s Principle Advisor, Mr. Oemar Idoe, emphasized, “Capacity development for the effective management of the Sundarbans is one of the central aspects of our project. The close collaboration of all stakeholders and information exchange is crucial for ensuring long-term protection of this unique ecosystem.”

Dr. Zahangir Alom, Sundarbans Project Manager for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)— Bangladesh, who is jointly leading the training exercises said, “The SMART approach will allow managers to quickly understand where patrol efforts are being made, and where gaps exist that require additional attention from the frontline staff. It is also a means by which patrol teams can demonstrate their efforts and results by meeting patrol targets set within the SMART system.”

Dr. Antony Lynam, Regional Advisor for WCS–Asia Programs helped design and conduct the training exercises, and is advising on the implementation of SMART in the Sundarbans: “The training of trainers exercise has imparted specific skills in how to determine the training needs, know specific competences needed for frontline protection staff, and how to design and plan lessons and practical exercises to impart skills. The target for the training is the frontline teams that will be engaged in patrolling and protection work to identify and reduce environmental crime.”

As part of the rollout of the SMART Approach in Bangladesh, the system has been piloted by the Bangladesh Forest Department in the West Sundarbans Sanctuary with support of the USAID funded Bagh project, and will now be extended to the South and East Sundarbans Sanctuaries, and three dolphin sanctuaries. 

“SMART patrolling is particularly well suited for implementation in the Wildlife Sanctuaries for Freshwater Dolphins in the Eastern Sundarbans due to the greater human impact from tourism and fisheries in this area,” said DFO Wildlife, Mr Jahidul Kabir. “If well managed, both of these activities can benefit local people but if the rules and regulations designed to protect the forest, local fisheries, and waterways are not followed these activities could result in the loss of our country’s wildlife heritage including tigers and freshwater dolphins.”

The SMART Partnership includes WCS, CITES-Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), Frankfurt Zoological Society, North Carolina Zoological Park, Panthera, Peace Parks Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, and Zoological Society of London. The tool was launched in March 2013 and has been implemented at 140 sites across 30 countries worldwide. Bangladesh is one of the first countries to pilot SMART in a World Heritage Area.