Sundarbans' Tigers Further Pushed Towards Extinction by Rising Sea Levels

bengal tiger photo

photo: Suvajit Sengupta via flickr.

Just 28 centimeters of sea level rise will eliminate 96% of remaining habitat for Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans mangroves of India and Bangladesh, likely reducing the breeding population to less than 20 individuals a new WWF study shows. In other words, essentially dooming the current population of 250-400 to extinction. And remember that even under optimistic sea level rise projections, by 2100 some 50cm is likely. So what to do about it? First of all, since by IPCC projection we are likely to reach 28cm by 2070, and that sea level rise has been consistently under-estimated by the last IPCC report, we don't have a lot of time to change course.

Second, this is how we can do it, according to WWF:

  • Locally, governments and natural resource mangers should take immediate steps to conserve and expand mangroves while preventing poaching and retaliatory killing of tigers.
  • Regionally, neighboring countries should increase sediment delivery and freshwater flows to the coastal region to support agriculture and replenishment of the land.
  • Globally, government should take stronger action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

sundarbans map image

This satellite image shows the forest in the protected area. The Sundarbans appears deep green, surrounded to the north by a landscape of agricultural lands, which appear lighter green, towns, which appear tan, and streams, which are blue. Ponds for shrimp aquaculture, especially in Bangladesh, sit right at the edge of the protected area, a potential problem for the water quality and biodiversity of the area. The forest may also be under stress from environmental disturbance occurring thousands of kilometers away, such as deforestation in the Himalaya Mountains far to the north. Image and caption: Wikipedia.
More Than Tigers At Stake...
Perhaps easier said than done on the global part, considering the outcome of COP15. But as the WWF report also points out, the Sundarbans--which form the largest single area of mangrove swamp in the world and acts as a strong natural protector against yearly cyclones and storms--are also home to more than 50 reptile species, 120 commercial fish species, 300 bird species, and 45 mammal species.

In other words--and this really extends beyond protecting tigers, or whatever iconic animal species you fancy--protecting intact ecosystems makes sense both for biodiversity, for economic diversity, and for simply protection of humanity itself.

Illegal Tiger Trade a Huge Threat Too
Oh, and if climate change doesn't do in these tigers, rampant poaching might. The $20 billion per year trade in tiger skins and parts is still going strong.

The original report: Sea level rise and tigers: predicted impacts to Bangladesh's Sundarbans mangroves [PDF]

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