Fighting ingress of salt water and erosion of forest land due to climate change, tiger population in the shrinking islands of Sundarbans has remained stable over the last few years with the latest report estimating the presence of 86 big cats. According to the latest camera-trap report conducted by the West Bengal forest department and WWF during November to March this year in Sundarbans, there are a minimum of 83 tigers and could be a maximum of 128.
“The mean of this range has been calculated at 86 using a statistical model. There has been a marginal increase in the tiger count so we can say that the population is now very well stable,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden Pradeep Vyas told PTI.
Since tigers are at the apex of the forest ecosystem, the stable population of the big cats prove that the delta’s ecosystem is also healthy. “Most importantly the population range is close to last year’s range which proves the stability. There can be minor increase and decrease in the population,” Vyas said.
In 2014 a similar exercise had put the number of tigers at 76.
“You can say that the population is stable. It is more or less the same since the last survey,” said WWF’s Ratul Saha.
It was for the first time that cameras were set not only in the Sundarbans tiger reserve area but also outside it in the rest of South 24-Parganas forest division. The report found that areas outside the core zone have a good population of tigers that are breeding well.
Five cubs were also spotted by the cameras but were not taken into account as only adults are counted in population estimates as a rule. Threatening tiger habitat and its prey base, mangrove forests in the Sundarbans delta are hit hard by constant land erosion and salinity due to rising sea levels.
According to a study by the School of Oceanography Studies in Jadavpur University, the rate of coastal erosion was measured to be about 5.50 sq km per year. Another report prepared by a group of ecologists led by Dr M Zafar-ul Islam had estimated that if the sea level rises by one meter, the Sundarbans will lose more than half of its area.
“In the long-term sea level rise will be an issue for the tiger population as substantial area is being lost to the sea,” Saha said.
Divided by a complex network of streams, rivers, tidal creeks and channels, the UNESCO World Heritage site is also home to 40 lakh people often leading to cases of man-animal conflict.