Only 100 Bengal tigers left in Bangladesh Sundarbans

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The Third Pole, Bangladesh

A new census reveals that the tiger population in the mangrove forest is much smaller than thought because of poaching and rapid development on the edge of the forest

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A new census from Bangladesh’s Forest Department  has revealed there are only 106 tigers left in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh, far lower than previous estimates.

Environmental experts have blamed development and commercial shipping in and around the world’s largest mangrove forest, as well as illegal poaching.

The study used hidden cameras to track and record the tigers between 2013 and 2014 and was funded by the World Bank.

“This is the first ever effort to quantify tiger abundance in Bangladesh Sundarbans based on a robust scientific protocol using camera traps and double sampling approach,” the report said.

An earlier 2004 government census estimated there were 440 Bengal tigers, but the pug-mark tracking system has now been dismissed by experts as unscientific.

Another 2012 survey using hidden camera estimated the number of tigers was around 200.

Monirul Khan, a zoology professor at Bangladesh’s Jahangirnagar University and the country’s leading tiger expert, said the number was shrinking because of poaching and rapid development on the edge of the forest. Khan called on the government to do more to protect the animals, otherwise the number of tigers will continue to fall.

Rampal coal plant: an emerging threat

Meanwhile Bangladesh, in collaboration with the Indian state-owned National Thermal Power Plant Corporation, is building a 1,320 MW coal-fired power plant 14 kilometres away from the mangrove forest, despite widespread criticism.

The several hundred vessels transporting coal across the forest will destroy the entire ecosystem of the forest, Monirul Islam, a zoology professor and Sundarbans specialist, told thethirdpole.net.

The potentially disastrous consequence of the growth of shipping was highlighted when an oil tanker capsized in December last year in a sanctuary for endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.

Illegal poaching also appears to be on the rise. In the last 18 months, security forces confiscated the skins at least 10 tiger skins in the Sundarbans.  In contrast, not a single tiger skin was confiscated between 2012 and 2013.

About 74 tigers have previously been counted on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, which makes up nearly 40% of the forest straddling both countries over 10,000 square kilometres.