A new study has warned that the Sundarbans' famed Royal Bengal tiger could be gone within 50 years, especially from the Bangladesh part, because of constant rise in sea levels and climate change.
The study, titled “Combined effects of climate change and sea-level rise project dramatic habitat loss of the globally endangered Bengal tiger in the Bangladesh Sundarbans” was carried out by a team of Bangladeshi and Australian scientists.
It reveals that constant rise in sea levels and climate change could bring a catastrophic situation to the mangroves of Sundarbans -- the iconic Bengal tiger's last coastal stronghold and the world's biggest mangrove forest.
The study was published in the journal Science of The Total Environment.
“Fewer than 4,000 Bengal tigers are alive today,” said James Cook University's Professor Bill Laurance, a co-author of the study. “That's a really low number for the world's biggest cat, which used to be far more abundant but today is mainly confined to small areas of India and Bangladesh,” he said.
“Spanning more than 10,000 square kilometres, the Sundarbans region of Bangladesh and India is the biggest mangrove forest on earth, and also the most critical area for Bengal tiger survival,” said lead author Dr Sharif Mukul, an assistant professor at Independent University, Bangladesh.
“What is most terrifying is that our analyses suggest tiger habitats in the Sundarbans will vanish entirely by 2070,” said Dr Mukul.
The researchers used computer simulations to assess the future suitability of the low-lying Sundarbans region for tigers and their prey species, using mainstream estimates of climatic trends from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their analyses included factors such as extreme weather events and sea-level rise.
“Beyond climate change, the Sundarbans are under growing pressure from industrial developments, new roads, and greater poaching,” said Professor Laurance. “So, tigers are getting a double whammy -- greater human encroachment on the one hand and a worsening climate and associated sea-level rise on the other.”
But the researchers emphasise there is still hope. “The more of the Sundarbans that can be conserved -- via new protected areas and reducing illegal poaching -- the more resilient it will be to future climatic extremes and rising sea levels,” said Professor Laurance.
“Our analyses are a preliminary picture of what could happen if we don't start to look after Bengal tigers and their critical habitats,” said Dr Mukul.
“There is no other place like the Sundarbans left on earth,” said Professor Laurance. “We have to look after this iconic ecosystem if we want amazing animals like the Bengal tiger to have a chance of survival.”