The preliminary results of the recent tiger census gave us an alarming message – we have only 106 Bengal tigers left in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh. This number is remarkably lower than the previous estimate of 440 from 11 years ago. A recent survey in the Indian part of Sundarbans also yielded an estimate of 74 tigers against its previous estimate of about 270 tigers in the area from 2004.
The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is listed as globally endangered, and in Bangladesh it is considered as critically endangered. Globally the population of this wild cat is limited to only a few locations (figure), and other than Bangladesh, the Bengal tiger is found only in India, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, and China. The Sundarbans mangrove forest is both the largest habitat of the Bengal tiger in the world, and the largest continuous tract of mangrove forests.
This survey used a camera trapping method which is more reliable than the previous estimate taken based on tiger pug marks. Certainly this is a disappointing scenario for our wildlife, where in recent years many countries reported an increase in their number of tigers in wild habitats. Other than the new method used in the most recent survey, illegal tiger poaching could also be another reason behind this dramatic decline in the tiger population. Between 2001 and 2014, 49 tigers were killed in the Bangladesh Sundarbans, according to the Forest Department’s records which are unlikely to give a complete picture of the situation.
A recent ongoing study by researchers based in Australia, Canada, and USA also signalled an alarming future for Bangladesh’s tigers as well as for their suitable habitats, when considering climate change and sea level rise will impact Bangladesh’s Sundarbans.
Certainly each and every method used in scientific inquiry has its own limitations, but the fact remains that we can only skirt around greater accuracy with the newer methods we use. Therefore this new statistic and the concerns raised by ongoing studies on Bengal tigers urge us towards greater conservation efforts. These efforts in the Sundarbans should involve trans-boundary monitoring and conservation of Bengal tigers, if possible, and meet the urgent need to reconsider the establishment of the Rampal Power Plant in the vicinity.
Dr. Sharif A. Mukul is a researcher and consultant at the University of Queensland, Australia.