New Delhi: Scientists have warned in a new study that climate change and rising sea levels eventually will wipe out one of the world’s last and largest tiger strongholds.
According to a detailed report by the United Nations, the wild cats are among nearly 500,000 land species whose survival is now very sceptical owing to threats to their natural habitat.
The Sundarbans, which is 4000 square miles of marsh land in India and Bangladesh, is home to the world’s largest mangrove forest. With rich ecosystem, it supports several hundred species of animals, including The Bengal tiger.
Australian and Bangladeshi researchers reported in Journal Science of The Total Environment, that 70 per cent of land is just a few feet above sea level and grave changes are in store for the whole region. These climate changes will warm the planet which in turn will be enough to perish the few hundred or so Bengal tigers left there.
“By the looks of it in and around 2070, there will be no suitable habitats for tigers in Bangladeshi Sundarbans,” concluded a study by 10 researchers.
The paper, which relies on climate change scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for its simulation models, adds to existing studies that offer similarity in grim predictions for wildlife in the Sundarbans.
In 2010, a study led by the World Wide Fund for Nature predicted that a sea level rise of 11 inches could possibly reduce the number of tigers in the Sundarbans by as much as 96 per cent within a few decades.
Climate change has already harmed almost half of the world’s endangered mammals and species, far more than previously projected, a recent study found.
Sharif A. Mukul, lead author of the new report on the Sundarbans, and his partners looked for risks to the tiger beyond sea level rise, which accounted for nearly 5.4 percent to 11.3 percent of the projected habitat loss between 2050 and 2070.
Other reasons related to climate change were more deteriorating to the Sundarbans’ tigers, one of the largest remaining populations of wild tigers around the globe, the researchers found.
Since the early 1900s, hunting, habitat loss and the illegal trade of animal parts have wrecked the global population of tigers from around 100,000 to fewer than 4,000.
In the Bangladesh Sundarbans, a rise in extreme weather events and changing vegetation will further damage the population, the study found. And as the Sundarbans flood, encounters may grow between humans and tigers as the animals stray outside their habitat in search of new land.
“A host of things can happen,” said Dr Mukul, an assistant professor of environmental management at Independent University, Dhaka. “The state of the tigers and the area could be even worse if a cyclone hits or if there is some disease outbreak, or if there is a shortage for food.”
In October, a milestone report by the United Nations’s scientific panel on climate change found that if greenhouse gas emissions continued at the current speed, the atmosphere would warm by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels by 2040.
That increase would have major consequences for food chains, coral reefs and flood-affected areas. It may also incorrectly affect poorer, densely packed countries like Bangladesh, which is about the size of Iowa and home to nearly 160 million people.
In an analysis of decades of tidal records, scientists saw that high tides were rising much faster than the global average in Bangladesh, which sits right in the Ganges Delta, a complex network of rivers and streams.
Sugata Hazra, oceanographer at Jadavpur University, India said there may be some land-loss in the Sundarbans, but his research has suggested a less dramatic effect on tigers.
Some steps have already been taken to protect low-lying areas and the tigers living there, said Zahir Uddin Ahmed, a Bangladeshi official.
Plants and Crops that can survive higher levels of water salinity are being introduced. The government has constructed storm surge walls. Sediment redistribution has also naturally raised the height of many islands, he said.
Author of “The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis,” Prerna Singh Bindra said tiger habitats would continue to shrink and dwindle — whether because of climate change or the development of industry — and that decent conservation options were hard to come by.
Simply moving the tigers to another reserve, for instance, was not a “viable solution,” she said.
“Where do you put these tigers? Where is a suitable habitat on this over-crowded planet?”