Tiger population is at risk in Sundarbans. A total of 38 tigers died in the last 20 years in Bangladesh part of the Sundarbans. Last five months, two more tigers died of old age reasons in the Sundarbans.
Between 2001 and July 2020, altogether 38 tigers died, 22 in East Division and 16 in West Division of the Sundarbans.
However, last year, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said the number of Royal Bengal Tiger in Bangladesh part of the Sundarbans increased to 114 from 106.
Some of the tigers died by poachers, some died in lynching, some passed away by the storm and tidal surge while some died of old age.
The latest Tiger Survey conducted in 2018 claims there were 114 tigers in the Sundarbans.
Climate change exposes Sundarbans tiger habitats
Royal Bengal tigers in the Bangladesh Sundarbans could be wiped off by 2070 because of both climate change and sea-level rise.
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.
Bangladesh and Australian researchers have conducted this study. The journal Science of The Total Environment published it.
“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 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.
The sanctuary of the Sundarbans has been increased from 139,700 hectares to 317,900 hectares among the total of 601,700 hectares forest area.
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.
Important factors linked to this decline are rainfall in the summer season, vegetation (mangrove species) and maximum temperature of the warmest month.
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.
Health decline of Sundari trees in Sundarbans
However, there is no significant decline in the number of mangroves in the Sundarbans for the last 30 years. However, there is evidence of a 25% health decline of the mangrove trees. And, it is due to the effect of increased salinity on Sundari tree. But the continuing effects of climate change could critically hamper its ability to reborn.
Most significantly, the ‘top-dying disease’ is the reason for declining 15% of trees in the Sundarbans since the 80s.
The expert said, the increase of saline water is the key reason, and this is happening in the Sundarbans.
Unfavourably, the Sundari tree is less tolerant of high salinity levels than other mangrove species and has previously been identified as suffering from die-back due to rising salinity.
The government of Bangladesh should prioritise tiger conservation by designating more areas for tiger conservation, create corridors for transboundary tiger movements.
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. Transboundary conservation measures by the Bangladesh and Indian governments are urgent.
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.