DHAKA — Three two-month-old tiger cubs rescued in the Bangladesh capital this week from smugglers are frail and have been disturbed by hundreds of curious visitors, vets said on Wednesday.
Security forces rescued the cubs from a house on Monday in a raid that saw one man arrested. They have since been transferred to a private zoo in Dhaka where inexperienced wildlife officials are doing their best to care for them.
"The cubs are very weak and scared. They seemed to be in sound health when they were rescued," said the Forest Department's veterinary surgeon Zahed Malekur Rahman, who is now looking after them.
"One of them fell sick last night. It was much weaker than the two others. But this morning it was able to walk inside the cage," Rahman told AFP.
Hundreds of people have thronged the zoo in the capital Dhaka as pictures of them in a cage and news of their rescue spread in the local media, but authorities have now restricted entry.
"It was too much for the babies to bear, losing their mother, being smuggled from their habitat to Dhaka and the careless handling by the traffickers. Now they are very scared with so many people and so much noise," Rahman said.
They are being fed powdered milk meant for human babies in a bottle four times a day, as well as finely chopped chicken meat.
"But we are not sure if this is a proper diet. I am acting on my previous practical knowledge of feeding four lion cubs at a safari park," Rahman said.
"We lack expertise in wildlife rehabilitation, but are trying our best to keep them alive," he said.
Bangladeshi authorities have set up a probe to investigate how the cubs were stolen from the Sundarbans forest in the southwest of the country, the country's chief conservator of forests, Yunus Ali, told AFP.
The man arrested over the smuggling has said the government's chief wildlife conservationist Tapan Kumar Dey placed the order for the tiger cubs -- an allegation he has vehemently denied.
"We are not discarding any allegation. We will investigate the allegation against him," Ali said.
The smuggling of the cubs has raised fear for the world's largest remaining wild population of Bengal Tigers in the Sundarbans forest.
There are just 440 Bengal tigers left in Bangladesh, with about 1,700 in India and a worldwide total of less than 2,500, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).