Habib Talukder, nicknamed Habib Tiger for his hunting skills, was wanted by police for 20 years.
Bangladesh police have arrested an alleged wildlife thief who is believed to have killed at least 70 endangered Bengal tigers in more than two decades, police said.
Local police chief Saidur Rahman said on Tuesday that Habib Talukder, nicknamed Habib Tiger for his hunting skills, lived near the vast mangrove forest of Sundarbans and would flee whenever officers attacked the area.
The 50-year-old suspect was sent to prison awaiting trial after being arrested Saturday at his home in the southern district of Bagerhat, Rahman said.
The region of the mangrove forest straddling India and Bangladesh, where one of the world’s largest populations of Bengal tigers is located, was the hunting ground of Talukder.
The skins, bones, and even meat of cats would be bought by black market traders who would sell them in China and elsewhere.
Talukder began collecting wild bee honey in the forest and became a local legend for his feats by hunting big cats and avoiding arrest.
“We respect him equally and we are afraid of him,” said Abdus Salam, a local honey hunter. “He’s a dangerous man who could fight alone with his mother (the tiger) in the woods.”
Wanted in a series of cases filed under the wildlife conservation law, Talukder had been on the run for a long time, Rahman said.
He may have links to gangs operating in the Sundarbans for stealing wild animals, the agent said.
Talukder, who often ventured into the forest despite his ban, is formally charged with hunting three tigers and five deer, said Joynal Abadin, who is in charge of the forest.
But Talukder told local people he had hunted up to 70 large cats since he first killed a tiger in the mid-1920s, Abadin said, referring to local residents.
“We have not yet been able to verify your claim,” he said.
Bengal tigers are unique among large cats in being able to live and hunt in the brackish water of mangrove forests. They are expert swimmers.
Following a crackdown on poaching and banditry, a 2019 Bangladesh forest department study found a total of 114 Bengal tigers in its UNESCO-owned part of Sundarbans.
Its population had recorded a record low of 106 in 2015 from 440 in 2004, according to previous surveys.
Regional forest conservation officer Mainuddin Khan said the news of Talukder’s arrest had caused “sighs of relief”.
“It was a big headache for us. It posed a major threat to forest biodiversity. “