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Cli­mate change may destroy the Bangladesh Sun­dar­bans, home to Ben­gal tigers

pub­lished 15 Feb­ru­ary 2019 | mod­i­fied 15 Feb­ru­ary 2019

Recent study says the last coastal strong­hold of an iconic preda­tor, the endan­gered Ben­gal tiger, could be destroyed by cli­mate change and ris­ing sea lev­els over the next 50 years.

Bengal tiger cubsBen­gal tiger (Pan­thera tigris ssp tigris) cubs play-​fighting.
Copy­right unknown. Image cour­tesy of Greenpeace.

Fewer than 4,000 Ben­gal tigers are alive today,” said Pro­fes­sor Bill Lau­rance of the James Cook Uni­ver­sity. “That’s a really low num­ber for the world’s biggest cat, which used to be far more abun­dant but today is mainly con­fined to small areas of India and Bangladesh,” added Lau­rance, co-​author of the study pub­lished online on 30 Jan­u­ary in the jour­nal Sci­ence of The Total Envi­ron­ment.

Span­ning more than 10,000 square kilo­me­tres, the Sun­dar­bans region of Bangladesh and India is the biggest man­grove for­est on Earth, and also the most crit­i­cal area for Ben­gal tiger sur­vival,” said lead-​author Dr Sharif Mukul, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor at Inde­pen­dent Uni­ver­sity Bangladesh. “What is most ter­ri­fy­ing is that our analy­ses sug­gest tiger habi­tats in the Sun­dar­bans will van­ish entirely by 2070,” Mukul said.

There is no other place like the Sun­dar­bans left on Earth. We have to look after this iconic ecosys­tem if we want amaz­ing ani­mals like the Ben­gal tiger to have a chance of survival.

William F. Lau­rance, co-​author, Cen­tre for Trop­i­cal Envi­ron­men­tal and Sus­tain­abil­ity Sci­ence, Col­lege of Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing, James Cook Uni­ver­sity, Cairns, Australia

The researchers used com­puter sim­u­la­tions to assess the future suit­abil­ity of the low-​lying Sun­dar­ban region for tigers and their prey species, using main­stream esti­mates of cli­matic trends from the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change. Their analy­ses included fac­tors such as extreme weather events and sea-​level rise.

SundarbansBeyond cli­mate change, the Sun­dar­bans are under grow­ing pres­sure from indus­trial devel­op­ments, new roads, and greater poach­ing,” said Pro­fes­sor Lau­rance. “So, tigers are get­ting a dou­ble whammy — greater human encroach­ment on the one hand and a wors­en­ing cli­mate and asso­ci­ated sea-​level rises on the other.”

But the researchers empha­sise there is still hope.

The more of the Sun­dar­bans that can be con­served — via new pro­tected areas and reduc­ing ille­gal poach­ing — the more resilient it will be to future cli­matic extremes and ris­ing sea lev­els,” said Pro­fes­sor Laurance.

Our analy­ses are a pre­lim­i­nary pic­ture of what could hap­pen if we don’t start to look after Ben­gal tigers and their crit­i­cal habi­tats,” said Dr Mukul.

So, although the 2014 cen­sus of Ben­gal tigers in India demon­strated that this tiger sub­species had bounced back — from 1,411 in 2006 to 2,226 in 2014 — due to bet­ter man­age­ment and improved pro­tec­tion within tiger reserves and other tiger bear­ing pro­tected areas, addi­tional mea­sures are required to safe­guard tiger habi­tats in the Sundarbans.

Since 2010, all tiger coun­tries have been work­ing to dou­ble global tiger num­bers by 2022, a goal known as Tx2.

Tx2: Dou­bling Wild Tigers by 2022:

(Source: WWF Tigers Alive on Vimeo)

(Source: James Cook Uni­ver­sity news release, 11.02.2019; About​zoos​.info — India’s tigers come roar­ing back say Indian researchers, 23.01.2015)

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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