Tiger in the Sundarbans.

Sundarbans tiger and prey numbers rise amid Bangladesh’s conservation efforts

  • A recent survey of big cats and prey in the Sundarbans shows that their numbers have increased significantly in recent years, due to conservation measures taken by the government of Bangladesh.
  • According to the last survey conducted in 2018, there were 114 tigers in the Bangladeshi part of the Sundarbans, while the number counted in 2004 was 440.
  • The ongoing tiger census found more tigers in the entire forest than in previous censuses. The final tiger count will be announced on World Tiger Day, July 29, 2024.
  • Experts say that increased hunting of tigers will reduce the conflict between humans and tigers and help to increase the number of tigers.

In an alarming turn of events, the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, which straddles the southwestern border of Bangladesh, is seeing promising signs of recovery for the legendary Bengal tiger.Panthera tigris tigris). Five years ago, the conservation community was concerned about the declining numbers of animals in this unique habitat.

This concern was especially noticeable when considering the success stories of India and Nepal, where their close cousins ​​the tiger have been able to thrive and expand their populations. The decline of Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans casts a shadow of uncertainty over their future. However, a series of dedicated efforts led by the government of Bangladesh and various stakeholders have yielded encouraging results, reviving hope for the survival and growth of these magnificent creatures.

The main strategies used in this integrated conservation campaign focus on preserving the tiger’s natural habitat, addressing food scarcity issues and combating poaching through a community-based collaborative approach. These measures have not only benefited the tigers but also the entire ecosystem of the Sundarbans.

A recent survey conducted jointly by the government’s forestry sector, the German Cooperation and the Swiss unit of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has revealed two important findings that paint a hopeful picture for the resurgence of the Bengal tiger.

First, research has seen an encouraging increase in the population of carnivores such as deer, wild pigs and monkeys within the Sundarbans. This abundance of prey represents a happy evolution for tigers, ensuring they have a steady supply of food to support themselves and their potential offspring.

Second, due to effective habitat conservation measures, studies show that the forest may now be housing a higher number of tigers. This regeneration not only promises the survival of the Bengal tiger but also contributes to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the Sundarbans.

Tiger in the Sundarbans.
An ongoing camera-based tiger census has found a higher presence of tigers across the Sundarbans than in previous censuses. Image by Anupam Mukherjee via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Excessive availability of prey animals

One of the studies, an extensive three-year census, highlights the importance of six prey animals to Bengal tigers. Although the number of barking deer has declined, three of the five remaining populations have experienced significant growth over the past three decades. Spotted deer and wild boar have doubled in number, and monkeys have also increased. Experts point out that these prey animals are not only important for the survival of the tigers but also for the preservation of the biodiversity of the Sundarbans.

The survey, titled “Status of Tiger Prey Species in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh,” found that the number of spotted deer, which contributes 79% of the tiger’s diet, is 1,41,357; the population was around 80,000-85,000 when the last census was taken in the 1980s.

Another favorite prey of tigers in the Sundarbans is the wild boar. This prey animal, which contributes about 11% of the tiger’s diet, saw an increase of 45,110 in the latest count. At the previous count, it was about 28,000.

“Previous studies on tiger predators were very limited. That is why scientists did not know what is the condition of the animals that hunt the tiger in the forest. As a result of the population census, we can take necessary measures for the conservation of tiger food, as this will help reduce human-tiger conflict. If there is no shortage of food, the number of tigers will increase,” MA Aziz, a professor in the Department of Zoology at Jahangirnagar University and a researcher involved in the study, told Mongabay.

However, he insisted on keeping the prey animals safe from hunters.

A herd of chital, or leprosy deer, in the Sundarban mangroves.
A herd of chital, or leprosy deer, in the Sundarban mangroves. Spotted deer and wild boar have doubled in number, and monkeys have also increased. Image by Rajiv Ashrafi via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Tiger footage was recorded in new locations

Besides the hunted animals, another promising step, a four-month camera-trapping study covering 2,600 kilometers (1,615 miles) in the western part of the forest, added to the growing optimism.

The forest department is conducting a census of the tiger population in the Sundarbans. A total of 1,330 cameras in 665 locations were installed to count tigers, deer and pigs in the mangrove forest.

So far, the analysis shows that at least 53% of the installed cameras have detected the movement of tigers, which has created hope and positive expectations about the increase in numbers.

“We are now analyzing the images. As each tiger has unique stripes, unique tigers will be recognized by their stripes. But the good news is that we have found pictures of tigers in places where we did not get a picture in the previous census,” said Abu Naser Mohsin Hossain, officer of the Sundarban West Forest Division.

Forest officials said the survey will be completed by April, and the number of tigers will be announced on July 29, 2024, International Tiger Day.

Mohsin said the number of tigers could increase, as the government has taken various measures over the years to protect the big cats.

Increasing the size of protected areas is one of them. The government has declared 52% of the total Sundarbans (6,017 km or 2,323 km) as protected areas by 2020, while it was only 23% earlier.

“As the protected area expanded, the tigers remained undisturbed and this ensured a suitable breeding environment for the tigers,” said Mohsin, adding that this was only possible because the forest was now free from poachers.

In addition, to protect the tigers, the government has focused on reducing the conflict between the tiger population, which now provides income.

There are 340 members under 49 groups that respond to rural tigers and their job is to protect any tiger that enters the area.

“In the last 20 years, 52 tigers have been killed or died naturally. “But in the last five years, there has not been a single incident of human-tiger conflict in the Sundarbans,” Mohsin said.

Bengal raining tiger in Sundarban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, India.
The government is focusing on reducing the tiger population conflict, which is currently generating revenue. Image by Soumyajit Nandy via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The Sundarbans tiger conducts a survey by squinting

According to the last survey conducted in 2018, there were 114 tigers in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh.

According to the 2015 Tiger Census, there were only 106 tigers in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans region, up from 440 in 2004.

In 1975, German biologist Hubert Hendrichs worked on a study of “man-eating” tigers. From tiger field research afterwards, he estimated that the number of tigers in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh was 350.

In 1982, Margaret Salter conducted sampling and field research and estimated the number of tigers at 425.

Rex Gittins conducted a survey in 1984 covering 110 km2 (42 mi2) area of ​​Sundarbans South Wildlife Sanctuary and found the tiger population to be 430-50.

In 1992, the forest department collected data on people working in the Sundarbans area and estimated the number at 359.

The following year, Dhan Bahadur Tamang conducted a pugmark census (using tiger footprints to estimate population numbers) spanning 350 km.2 (135 mi2) in the Sundarbans area and put the number at 362.

Bangladesh has taken several initiatives for tiger conservation, including the Tiger Action Plan 2009-2017, the Bangladesh Tiger Action Plan 2018-2027, the National Tiger Recovery Program and the Conservation and Protection Act, 2012.

In 2010, the International Tiger Conservation Forum held a conference in Russia where tiger conservation countries committed to doubling the number of tigers in the world by 2022; Bangladesh was among the 13 countries. The countries in this conference decided to conduct a survey every four years.

Advertisement image: A young Bengal tiger on the banks of a river in the Sundarban Tiger Reserve in India. Image by Soumyajit Nandy via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Bangladesh is scrambling to deal with the growing human-tiger conflict in the Sundarbans

Big Cats, Conservation, Conservation Solutions, Endangered Species, Environment, Forests, Management, Habitat, Wildlife Conflict, Mangroves, Protected Areas, Tigers, Tropical Forests, Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation.

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