Number of tigers in the Indian Sunderbans according to forest department figures:
1997 — 293
2000 — 274
2004 — 271
The tiger may once have ruled the jungles. But now it is being forced to surrender to many things, including climate change. According to a recent finding, climate change is threatening to push the Royal Bengal Tiger on the verge of extinction in 60 years.
A recent study carried out on tigers in the Sunderbans by the US unit of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has predicted that the tiger population would significantly reduce as a direct fall-out of climate change and corresponding rise in the sea level.
“The survey carried out on the basis of the Bangladesh Sunderbans data predicts that the number of tigers may come down to less than 50 by 2070 because of shrinkage of habitat triggered by sea level rise,” said Prakash Rao of WWF India during a recent meeting of the wildlife conservation body’s regional climate change platform in the city. The current number of tigers in Bangladesh is stated to be around 400.
“As the Indian Sunderbans and Bangladesh Sunderbans are similar in most aspects, the impact of climate change- triggered events like sea-level rise, cyclone and storms are expected to be similarly damaging for the tiger population in the Indian Sunderbans as well,” Rao added.
“During the last documented census in 2004, 271 tigers were counted in the Indian Sunderbans, but I feel that the number has been reduced by 20-25 in the last few years, mainly because of the sea level rise and habitat fragmentation,” said Pranabesh Sanyal, the former director of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve.
However, the impact on the Indian Sunderbans may be slightly less than Bangladesh as the rate of sea level rise is slower in India, he added.
Biswajit Roychowdhury of NEWS, an NGO, feels that the actual number of tigers in the Indian Sunderbans may be far less as the prey-base (the supply of prey required to feed the tiger population) has gone down significantly and climate change can be counted as the major reason.
“The lack of availability of prey and habitat shrinkage explains the high frequency of tigers straying within localities in the recent past,” said a wildlife expert.