Survey finds only 106 tigers in Sunderbans

Khadimul Islam

The sharp decline of the tiger population to 106 in the Bangladesh part of the Sunderbans as revealed by the latest year long count using camera trapping method dashed the nation’s expectations.
No one expected that the tiger population was so small in the Sunderbans, said newspaper readers.
It’s a crude estimate worked out by averaging two counts, Forest Department’s wildlife conservator Tapan Kumar Dey told New Age.
According to the survey findings tiger density was adversely affected by human disturbance which was high in the Bangladesh side of the Sunderbans compared to the Indian part.
It blamed increasing commercial boat traffic, development activities around the Sundarbans and poaching of tigers and their prey for the low density of the big cats in the Bangladesh part of the mangrove forest.
On the Indian side of the Sunderbans 64 tigers were found in the survey carried out simultaneously.
The Sunderbans covers 10,000 square km of which 60per cent lies in Bangladesh.
The Sunderbans is the world’s largest natural mangrove forest. It is the only mangrove forest where tigers are found.
The survey report and conservationists said poaching, the under construction coal fired Rampal power plant, other development activities and river vessel traffic were threats to the unique biodiversity of the Sunderbans.
The proposed power plant would bisect the Sundarban tiger population into two parts, said YV Jhala, professor of the Wildlife Institute of India and chief adviser of the camera trapped tiger count.
He said that gene flow between the eastern and western parts of the Sundearbans would become restricted by continuous movement of large cargo vessels for supplying coal to the power plant.
This would be extremely detrimental for the conservation of tigers as well as the other species, he said.
He warned that movement of large cargo vessels trough water channels passing through the Sundabans would obstruct free movements of tigers and make them extinct.
Jhala described the low number of tigers in the Bangladesh part of the Sunderbans as a reality and hoped that Bangladesh would be able to increase its tiger population to the potential number of 200 to fulfill its Global Tiger Recovery commitments.
In 2004, a joint census conducted by the UNDP and the Forest Department using the pug mark method recorded 440 tigers in the Bangladesh part of the Sunderbans.
Forest officials and wildlife conservationists described the camera trapping count as more accurate.
Tapan said that the survey report finalized on Sunday would be released in a day or two.
Funded by World Bank the survey titled Tiger Abundance in Bangladesh Sundarbans’ was conducted by the Forest Department with technical support from the Wildlife Institute of India.
The latest tiger count report said that large water channel became potential barriers to dispersal between Sunderbans islands especially when these channels are used as a conduit for commercial boat traffic.
It said that development activities within and near the Sundarbans were promoting such boat traffic posing threats to the mangrove forest’s unique biodiversity values through effluents of pollution.
Tiger expert and zoology professor at Jahangirnagar University Monirul Hasan Khan blamed poaching of tigers and their prey particularly deer and commercial mechanized boat traffic using the canals and rivers passing through the mangrove forest for the decline in tiger population.
Monirul Hasan said that a camera trapping survey he conducted in 2006 with support from the Zoological Society of London found 200 tigers in the Bangladesh part of the Sunderbans.
IUCN country representative Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmad said that the latest count showed that the decline in tiger population was greater than it was expected.
He said that government needed to do more to conserve wildlife and curb all activities detrimental to conservation of tigers and other animals in the Sunderbans.
Environmentalists and wildlife conservation campaigners have been opposing the government efforts to build coal fired power plant at Rampal close to the Sunderbans.
They also raised their voice for stopping movement of vessels through the Sunderbans.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre expressed fears that the construction of the coal fired Rampal power plant would endanger the biodiversity of the Sunderbans.
It said navigation through the Sunderbans and setting up industries near it would also produce the same results.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, better known as UNESCO in a letter cautioned the government that that the Sundarbans would lose its world heritage status unless it took measures to preserve its natural resources which was akin to the lungs of Bangladesh.
The government drew widespread criticism for allowing river vessel movement along the Shela River passing through the Sundarbans after banning it for one month early this year after a fuel oil carrying vessel sank causing oil spill pollution in the mangrove forest.
Out of 38 adult tigers and four cubs trapped using hidden cameras during the latest survey,30 per cent were males while 70per cent were females.
Out of 6,000 square km of the Sunderbans in Bangladesh, the survey found tigers roaming in 4,832 square km.
Tigers generally roam in Katka, Kachikhali and Shupati of Bagerhat, Munshiganj, Dobeki and Koikhali of Satkhira, Nilkamol, Patkoshta and Geowakhali of Khulna district.
Pictures of 18 tigers were taken from Bagerhat, 13 from Satkhira and seven from Khulna during camera-trapped count of the big cats.
Forest Department’s Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation official Md Jahidul Kabir said that 266 infrared cameras installed by 30 forest personnel at select spots of the Sunderbans in Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira were used for the camera trapped tiger count.
At least 52 tigers were killed by poachers, angry villagers and natural disasters over the last 16 years, he said.

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