For many reasons Bangladeshi people like Bengal tiger. It is perhaps because they think it is theirs to be proud of! The Bengal tigers are majestic, fierce, powerful, and live in a very special place called the Sundarbans – a Unesco world heritage site and the largest mangrove forest in the world. So much so emotion for the Bengal tigers in Bangladesh that the children read about it in books, the Bangladeshi cricket team uses them as their symbol, Bangladesh Army use Bengal tigers as their mascot, the country considers it as the national animal of Bangladesh and people carry tiger effigies during Bangla New Year festivals each year.
The same are the love and passion of Chinese people for their giant panda. Pandas are cute, lazy and eat only bamboos. Chinese people regard them as a symbol of peace or friendship. Pandas are often compared to the yin and yang because of its black and white spots. China considers them as the ‘national treasure’. China owns almost all the giant pandas in the world and owns all future offspring of all pandas. From commemorative coins to international diplomacy, the panda is gold for China.
Although both Bengal tiger and panda live in two very populous countries, their numbers are extremely limited. Their existence is severely threatened by human population growth, lost biodiversity, habitat destruction, climate change, etc. Both animals are red-listed species. However, recently, the panda has changed its status from “endangered” to “vulnerable” because of a population rebound in China after an enormous effort by the Chinese government for over four decades (China still wants to do more). But Bengal tigers are not even close to any luck. There are only over 100 tigers left in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh. They are still considered as endangered species. On the top, Bangladesh government is tirelessly trying to build a coal-based energy power plant in Rampal, close to their habitat against the will of the people and defying many environmental concerns.
China needs panda plus energy. Bangladesh needs energy even at the cost of all the Bengal tigers. Losing panda is a national shame for China, but building a power plant, even by losing tigers and their habitat, is the sign of progress and development for Bangladesh. Bangladesh needs energy for people more than the people need Bengal tigers. China has earns millions dollars just by panda related activities. That is not the case for Bangladesh. The area where tigers live is not developed and tigers are not helping Bangladesh’s economy at all! The Prime Minister of Bangladesh described the largest mangrove the Sundarbans as underdeveloped area. In a recent press conference, the PM told the media that…
‘the (Rampal) power plant will create employment there. People want electricity. Do the people of that area want to live in the darkness? No, they don’t want. And it is a completely neglected area…the people there (in Sundarbans), what are their livelihoods? They steal the trees of Sundarbans or killed by a tiger attack while cutting trees! But after building the power plant, because of work activities there, people will not steal trees from Sundarbans anymore, they will find their ways of life and work which will rather save trees!’
Is this true?
No. Senseless development pressure has brought opposite effects what the PM said. In the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s understaffed environmental protection agency has to fight the grilleros (land grabbers) who are illegally clearing forest every day. From the Serengeti highway in Tanzania to Ladia Galaska – a 400-kilometer road network through the Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia, examples have shown us that sustainable development is not an easy one-way path. It is not the development, it is what comes with the development in poor countries is devastating – crime, corruption, greed, bribery, kickback, pollution, sabotage, mismanagement – harm the surrounding environment. Indeed, Sundarbans mangrove-forest livelihoods under threat from government corruption, not because local people using the forest for a living.
At the same press conference, the PM of Bangladesh, the champion of the earth in 2015, mentioned that during her government, in 1997, the Unesco declared Bangladesh side of Sundarbans a world heritage site. During the declaration, there were over 400 Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans. But in 2015, Bangladesh finds only 100 Bengal tigers there. Opps! By now, Bengal tigers should be like Chinese panda. Instead of growing, how come they became even more endangered?
Chinese panda tells Bangladesh a story. Energy is important for a nation for development. But not by risking the energy that a nation derives from its national pride.
Does China care more about pandas than their dragons – the highest-ranking mythical creature in the Chinese animal hierarchy? Not really. But the moment China realized that the whole world associates panda with China more than their dragons, they sprang into action. Pandas are in real danger, not dragons. Pandas are cute, cuddly and comely. Panda gives China an image that a nation can die for. The passion, pride and pleasure to save the pandas give Chinese people the magical energy they need to build the Chinese nation.
To survive the last few years of their lives before they become extinct from the soul and soil of Bangladesh, the Bengal tigers of Bangladesh have to fight with dangerous Rampal power plant, with dreadful government policies, and with part of the population who has no clue about the Sundarbans! Indeed, there is no fight. Yes, Bangladesh needs its Rampal, not the Bengal tigers, not the Sundarbans. A poor nation cannot afford pride in their soul – the feeling belongs to mighty nations. Yes, China must keep saving the panda.