KOLKATA - Wildlife experts in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans forest say a new census of the region’s tigers has revealed that there are only about 100 left. The figure indicates that the highly endangered animal roams in far fewer numbers in one of its last remaining natural habitats in the world than previously believed.
The Sundarbans, spread across a 10,000 square kilometer delta, crisscrossed by scores of rivers, straddle the eastern part of India and the southern tip of Bangladesh. About 60% of the mangrove forest, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, is in Bangladesh, while the remaining part lies in India.
In 2004, the previous census found 440 tigers in the Bangladeshi part of the Sundarbans forest, but wildlife experts now say that was an overcount, because it was based on the study of the tigers’ paw prints, also called “pug marks.”
The latest census used infrared cameras to arrive at what wildlife experts believe is a more accurate figure.
“We are sure that the pugmark-based previous census yielded an incorrect figure. The number of tigers in the Bangladeshi part of Sundarbans in 2004 was surely not as high as 440,” Wildlife and Nature Conservation Division official and co-ordinator of the camera trapping project in Bangladesh, Mohammad Jahidul Kabir told VOA.
The 2004 census counted more than 680 Royal Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans stretched across India and Bangladesh, making it the largest number of the animals in a single natural habitat in the world.
Now, after using camera trapping methods used in both countries, the entire forest is believed to hold about 182 tigers.
Indian wildlife scientist Yadvendradev Jhala, who monitored the recent tiger censuses, said that in India and Bangladesh, where more than three-fourths of the world’s tiger population is located, the new numbers show that the species is threatened by both poaching and a new coal-fired power plant that will isolate some tiger populations from each other.
“The majority of coal needed for the power plant will be brought by barges plying in the water channel from the Bay of Bengal up the Sundarbans. This continuous traffic of commercial boats will form a barrier to tigers dispersing east-west, effectively dividing the Sundarbans population into two halves. Small populations have a high probability of becoming extinct,” Jhala, a professor at the Wildlife Institute of India told VOA.
Bangladeshi tiger conservationist Monirul Khan, a zoology professor at Bangladesh’s Jahangirnagar University and a member of Bangladesh’s National Coordination Committee for Tiger Conservation, said officials who oversee conservation are unable to protect the dwindling number of tigers.
“Many areas of the vast Sundarbans remain unprotected due to insufficient patrol posts and forest guards of the forest department, giving the criminals the opportunity to poach the lucrative tiger,” he said.
The spotted deer, which is the tiger’s main prey, also is heavily poached for meat and skin, further threatening the tigers.
Bangladesh Wildlife and Nature Conservation Division official Mohammad Jahidul Kabir said the government has taken the latest tiger census report very seriously and would declare the entire Sundarbans a protected area, restricting activities that threatened the tigers.
It’s estimated there are only around 3,200 tigers left in the wild in the world — down from 100,000 in 1900.