India, Bangladesh to use Sundarbans-waterways carefully so as not to disturb movement of tigers: Report
India and Bangladesh should carefully use the water-channels in the Sundarbans in a bid not to disturb the free movement of tigers between the two countries, which may ultimately affect their gene flow, a new report released by the Union government has warned.
“In our rush to use waterways for economic transportation we have to be careful that these do not become barriers to tiger (and other wildlife) dispersal,” said the report titled, Status of Tigers, Co-predators and Prey in India (2018), which was released by the Union government on Tuesday.
The Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove delta that is spread over 10,200 square kilometres (sq km). While 4,200 sq km lies in West Bengal in India, the remaining 6,000 sq km falls in neighbouring Bangladesh. Around 200 tigers have adapted to this mangrove delta as their natural habitat, lending global importance to the Sundarbans. The Big Cats swim freely across rivers and creeks from one island to another between the two countries.
“Barges and ships carrying cargo often use these channels for transporting goods. This was particularly seen in Bangladesh. This has to be done carefully so that the tigers’ corridors are not disturbed. The Sundarbans is totally cut off from any other nearby tiger population and gene pool. As a result, it is important to maintain this as large single transboundary population,” said YV Jhala, a tiger expert and senior scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India (WWI).
The report calls for regulation of transboundary collaboration and regulation of cargo in the waterways, suggesting that increased continuous use of these water channels inside the forest as a conduit for commercial boat traffic can transform the rivers to barriers to tiger movement. Despite efforts by forest departments of both the countries, joint patrolling and joint management activities remain a non-starter.
Forest officials in West Bengal, however, said that cargo movement through the Sundarbans has long stopped on the Indian side. On the Bangladesh side, though, cargo ships and barges still use the water channels through the mangrove forests.
“Even though cargo used to move through the Indian part of the Sundarbans, it has stopped since 2011. Now, the ships and barges take alternate water routes, avoiding the Sundarbans, to reach Bangladesh,” said Ravi Kant Sinha, chief wildlife warden, West Bengal.
The report has cited that wildlife experts have got the first photographic evidence of Golden Jackals, as a co-predator of tigers that inhabit the world’s largest mangrove delta.
“Golden jackal was captured for the first time in Sundarbans and seems to be a recent coloniser restricted to the mangrove forest edges of Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary and islands of the biosphere reserve adjacent to the human-inhabited islands,” the report says.
Forest officials said even though the animal had been spotted by foresters and locals this is for the first time that it has been captured on camera and documented.
Earlier in 2017, the picture of a wolf was captured in the Sundarbans taking wildlife experts by surprise.
A total of 14 species of ungulates, carnivores, and omnivores such as tiger, chital, estuarine crocodile, fishing cat, jungle cat, leopard, and otter, among others, were captured on camera and documented in the Sundarbans. Wild pig and chital were apparently the most common species.