The tiger is burning bright in the Indian Sunderbans, but experts have warned that the mangroves have almost reached its big cat carrying capacity.
The Indian side of the Sunderbans now has 88 tigers, a 16% jump from the 76 recorded in 2014, according to data released on Monday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Any more growth in numbers will not be a good thing — for the tiger in particular and the local ecology in general — the experts have warned.
The latest figures mean the entire Sunderbans — a contiguous area spread over 10,000sq km, across India and Bangladesh — is home to 202 tigers in all. The neighbouring country had recently released figures, saying their side of the mangroves had 114 tigers.
Monday’s data of the Indian tiger count, released by the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), has pegged the lower and upper limits of tigers in the Indian Sunderbans at 86 and 90. The lower limit indicates that the Indian side has at least 86 tigers, the unique individuals that have been photographed in camera traps. The upper limit is the maximum number of tigers the forest can hold. The tiger-occupied area of the Indian Sunderbans has also increased by 479sq km — from 1,834sq km in 2014 to 2,313sq km in 2018.
Ravi Kant Sinha, the state’s chief wildlife warden, said the figure has grown owing to the tiger population outside the reserve area, which has the potential to become a home to big cats dispersing from the core tiger reserve area.
“The proportion of total tiger population photographed (86) and those estimated through capture-mark-recapture method (88) suggest that the Sunderbans has almost reached its carrying capacity,” said a scientist of Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which has been coordinating the exercise since 2006. “The trend on the prey population that we are getting from the tiger reserve now also suggests so. Though the tiger population reaching a forest’s carrying capacity is natural, it can be a worry, especially if movement corridors are disrupted, as this would lead to over-crowding of tigers, who would be compelled to enter human habitation. In case of the Sunderbans, movement corridors can be disrupted by continuous movement of cargo vessels that would not permit animals to cross channels between islands. So, movement of tigers across the Sunderbans of India and Bangladesh is important.”
Though the initial data sent to WII by the state had indicated the presence of over 90 tigers in the Indian side of the mangroves, the research institute used a refined technology to compile the final figures, eliminating the possibility of the same tigers being counted twice. “We are happy with the outcome. This indicates that our sustained management efforts in the mangroves have borne fruit. The research institute this time also used a method suitable for the Sunderbans, giving a more reliable figure,” Sinha said.
Forest minister Bratya Basu claimed there are more tigers in Bengal, but those could not be documented. “The tigers in the Sunderbans could be camera-trapped. But there are more big cats in the state — in north Bengal — that couldn’t be photographed,” he said.
State wildlife advisory board member, Joydip Kundu, said: “The number makes us happy but the focus needs to be on the protection of tiger habitats and corridors, rather than rejoicing on the numbers.”
More than 300 pairs of trap cameras had been placed across the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (STR) and South 24 Parganas forest division in phases last year. While in the first phase, the exercise was carried out in the National Park (east) and Basirhat ranges, the second phase after monsoon covered the forests of National Park (west) and Sajenkhali ranges of STR and the forests of South 24 Parganas division.
The exercise yielded more than 1,000 photographs of tigers.
Source: Times of India