Climate change endangers Sundarbans tiger habitats

Sundarbans Tiger
Climate change endangers Sundarbans tiger habitats

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Within 50 years, the entire population of Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans mangroves in Bangladesh is likely to be lost to climate change and sea-level rise.

  • Royal Bengal tigers in the Bangladesh Sundarbans could be wiped off by 2070 because of both climate change and sea-level rise.
  • By 2050, researchers forecast a Ceriops-dominated mangrove stretch along the India-Bangladesh border would potentially be the last refuge of the big cats in the Sundarbans.
  • Transboundary conservation measures by the Bangladesh and Indian governments are urgent. Otherwise, the fate of the tiger will be the same in the entire Sundarbans, said, researchers.

This predict of Royal Bengal tigers wiped off by 2070 is by Bangladesh and Australian researchers who have conducted a modelling study. 

Further, by 2050 researchers forecast that a Ceriops decandra-dominated mangrove stretch along the India-Bangladesh border would potentially be the only refuge of the big cats in the Sundarbans, underpinning the urgency of executing transboundary measures in conservation. 

“Our studies show a rapid falling-off the Royal Bengal tiger population and suitable tiger habitats in the Bangladesh Sundarbans area by 2050,” said the corresponding author of the study, Sharif A. Mukul.

With more than 10,000 square kilometres of areas, the Sundarbans region of Bangladesh and India is the most critical area for Bengal tiger survival. The Bangladesh side of the forest covers nearly 60 percent of the total area of the Sundarbans.

The latest census using camera traps has stated the number of tigers to be between 83 and 130 in the Bangladesh Sundarbans while in India side of the mangroves to be only 86.

“We found that climate change has a higher impact on Bengal tiger in Sundarbans rather than the sea level rise alone,” said Mukul, an assistant professor at Independent University, Bangladesh.

The study considered sea level rise as a consequence of climate change. The researchers examined suitable tiger habitats in the mangrove ecosystem where the tigers prefer to live. This space along the India and Bangladesh borders in the Sundarbans and is the site of Bangladesh’s Sundarban West Wildlife Sanctuary.

In Bangladesh Sundarbans, the three main wildlife sanctuaries are Sundarban West, South and East. These sanctuaries cover around 23 percent of the total Sundarbans reserved forest owned by the Bangladesh Forest Department.

Considering this fact, it is inadequate. We know Sundarbans is the largest wild habitat of Bengal tigers and only place where tigers are adapted to live in mangrove ecosystems.

Climate change predictions to determine the impact on tigers

In both the scenarios, the combination of climate change and sea-level rise will lead to the total loss of Bengal tiger habitats in the area by 2070. 

Important factors linked to the distribution of the big cats in the Sundarbans are rainfall in the summer season, vegetation (mangrove species) and maximum temperature of the warmest month.

We must also understand that the Sundarbans is a very dynamic system. So, the actual scenario could be better or worse than what we have predicted.

The reason could be the control of Ceriops decandra species of mangroves in this border stretch where salinity is relatively higher than the rest of the Sundarbans. Climate change would drive a tree species shift and also trigger extreme weather events adding to the effects of sea-level rise.

Climate change is likely to follow a similar path in the Indian Sundarbans and its counterpart in Bangladesh. Both sides are vulnerable to rising sea level.

The illegal poaching and human-tiger conflict are common on both sides of the Sundarbans.  

Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University in Australia, a co-author of the study emphasised on the new protected areas and reducing illegal poaching.

The government of Bangladesh ought to place tiger conservation by designating a lot of areas for tiger conservation, produce corridors for transboundary tiger movements. The authors have instructed to avoid unplanned development within the neighbourhood and lift public awareness to manage human-tiger conflicts with in the space, the authors recommend.

The fate of the tiger will be the same in entire Sundarbans if the governments don’t take necessary action to conserve and allow more areas dedicated for tiger conservation.

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Shortly, the changes in river salinity will unpleasantly affect the productivity of many capture fisheries. Negatively, it will affect the wild habitats of freshwater fish and giant prawns. 

The health of Mangrove trees is declining.

A new study says the health of mangrove trees of the Sundarbans has significantly declined over the last 30 years due to salinity increase. 

Consequently, the decline in health could critically hamper the ability to spring back. It makes it prone to unexpected climate-related hazards.

Also, the salinity increase in the water may induce a shift in the Sunderbans mangrove forest from Sundari to Gewa and Guran. 

Accordingly, Bagerhat, Barguna, Barisal, Bhola, Khulna, Jhalokati, Pirojpur, and Satkhira districts will be most adversely affected.

Climate Change, Soil Salinity in Coastal

Soon, the salinity level in the soil will surge in many areas of Barisal, Chittagong, and Khulna districts significantly. A study on the soil of the coastal regions of Bangladesh, the Soil Research Development Institute projects a median increase of 26% in salinity by 2050, with increases over 55% in the most affected areas.

Zulker Naeen

Climate Journalist

Zulker Naeen is a South Asia Fellow at Climate Tracker and freelance climate journalist from Bangladesh. He has three years of experience in the field. Zulker developed all his courses with the support of other experienced Climate Tracker staff credited on the course landing page.

As a young climate advocate, his fellowship aims to share knowledge of climate change. Climate Tracker is a global media network closely works on Climate Change.

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