Four people accused of poaching threatened Bengal tigers were shot dead by Bangladesh police on Wednesday during a gunfight in a mangrove forest, officials said.

Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) police challenged armed men on a boat in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, spokesman Mizanur Rahman said.

The poachers opened fire sparking the battle, Rahman told AFP. Four bodies, guns and ammunition were found on the boat.

The four were identified as members of a gang accused of poaching in one of the largest habitats for endangered Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins, local RAB official Tajul Islam told AFP.

« These gangs have become a major threat to wildlife conservation, » in the mangroves, Islam said.

The Sundarbans, much of which is a UNESCO world heritage site, is swarming with people accused of murders and abductions as well as poaching.

At least 120 people have been killed in clashes with the RAB since 2004, while another 400 have been arrested on the rivers and canals that cross the mangrove.

Some 200 surrendered their weapons to police in exchange for cash, legal aid and mobile phones. That led Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to last year declare the campaign against the outlaws as a success.

Last week, authorities said the tiger population in the Sundarbans, which also includes parts of India, has grown for the first time in two decades.

A tiger census released by the forestry department showed the number of the big cats on the Bangladeshi side of the border to have increased to 114 from 106 four years ago.

Numbers had fallen from 440 in 2004 to 106 tigers in a 2015 census.