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India suggests using Sunderbans waterways carefully

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | Published: 00:31, Aug 08,2020

 
 

Bangladesh and India should carefully use the waterways in the Sunderbans to avoid creating obstructions to habitats and movements of wildlife in general, tiger in particular, the Indian government said in a report.

‘In our rush to use waterways for economic transportation we have to be careful that these do not become barriers to tiger (and other wildlife) dispersal,’ said the report ‘Status of Tigers, Co-predators and Prey in India (2018)’ prepared and released by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests and Wildlife Institute of India  on Tuesday.

‘Barges and ships carrying cargo often use these channels for transporting goods. This was particularly seen in Bangladesh. This has to be done carefully so that the tigers’ corridors are not disturbed, YV Jhala, a WWI senior scientist and an author of the report said, according to the Hindustan Times.

Ravi Kant Sinha, chief wildlife warden of West Bengal in India, said ships and barges have stopped using the Sunderbans water routes since 2011. ‘Now, the ships and barges take alternate water routes, avoiding the Sunderbans, to reach Bangladesh,’ he said.

Zoological Society of Bangladesh general secretary Tapan Kumar Dey supported the observations made in the Indian research report.

‘The Sunderbans waterways are used in an abrupt manner without any care to the wildlife,’ he said, adding that recommendations made on various occasions to stop this were not implemented. 

Bangladesh chief conservator of forest Amir Hossain said that cargo vessels use two waterways inside the Bangladesh part of the Sunderbans.

Cargo vessels use some part of the Sunderbans water-channels under the Bangladesh-India river protocol and the River Pasur to reach the Mongla seaport, he said, adding that the Pasur channel is wide while some channels under the river protocol are narrow.

Tigers generally cross the narrow channels, he pointed out and added that ‘the crews of the cargo vessels however often blow horn as most of them are not aware of the wildlife.’  

The forest department drew attention of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority for limiting speed of the vessels and stopping blowing horns, said both Amir and Tapan.

YV Jhala , the lead author of the Indian report, said, ‘The Sunderbans is totally cut off from any other nearby tiger population and gene pool…it is important to maintain this large single trans-boundary population.’ 

The report calls for regulation of trans-boundary collaboration and regulation of cargo in the waterways, suggesting that increased continuous use of these water channels inside the forest as conduits for commercial boat traffic can transform the rivers to barriers to tiger movement.

Despite efforts by forest departments of both the countries, joint patrolling and joint management activities remain a non-starter, it said.

The Sunderbans is the world’s largest mangrove delta that is spread over 10,200 square kilometres. While 4,200 square kilometres lies in West Bengal in India, the remaining 6,000 square kilometres falls in neighbouring Bangladesh.

There were about 350 Royal Bengal Tigers in the Sunderbans, according to a 1971 survey.

But the number of the big cats, which swim freely across rivers and creeks from one island to another between the two countries, came down to some 114, according to an assessment of the WWI in 2018. 

A total of 14 species of ungulates, carnivores, and omnivores such as tiger, leopard, as well as estuarine crocodile, fishing cat, jungle cat, chital, and otter, among others, were captured on camera and documented in the Sunderbans. Wild pig and chital are apparently the most common species found in the mangrove forest.

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