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Mud, Man-eaters and Mangroves: Fighting to save the Sundarbans Tigers

Christina Greenwood of the Sundarbans Tiger Project

There is only one place on earth where wild tigers live in a mangrove swamp. At 10,000km2 the Indian and Bangladeshi Sundarbans is the biggest and most bio-diverse mangrove forest in the world, and home to the tiger. With only 5000 individuals (Possibly as few as 2500) left in the wild the 400-600 tigers living in the Sundarbans makes this forest one of the endangered species' last strongholds.

Threats - Unsustainable forest use, climate change & poaching
However, unsustainable forest use and climate change threaten to reduce the area in which tigers can live, and poaching of prey further reduces the capacity of the forest to support tigers. Tigers themselves are directly threatened by illegal poaching and trade to supply the increasing demand for tiger parts for traditional Asian medicines. In addition, the Sundarbans suffers some of the most intense levels of big cat-human conflict in the world, manifested in man-eating, livestock killing, and ultimately in retribution killings of tigers by affected local communities.

Donate to the Sundarbans Tiger Project

The Sundarbans Tiger Project is a non-profit group working with the Forest Department of Bangladesh to conserve the tigers and their stronghold in the Sundarbans forest of Bangladesh.  Find out how you can help by visiting their project page on the Zoological Society of London website.

Click here to donate

The disappearance of these big cats from the wild would be a sad reflection on our roles as guardians of the natural world, and the loss of this symbol of wilderness. Something that many people do not realise is that our own futures are very much intertwined with that of the tigers. As top carnivores, these predators have large land and prey needs, playing an integral part in the Sundarbans ecosystem. In turn, this forest supplies ecological services essential to our own existence - oxygen, water, food, building materials, and weather regulation.

Only accessible by boat
With all this attention, perhaps it is no surprise that the tigers in the Sundarbans keep themselves well hidden. Sometimes it seems that the forest itself is helping to keep them secret; fresh tiger tracks in the soft mud of the creek banks are quickly erased by the tides, and there are no clear trails through the forest. Even the forest floor is spiked with mangrove roots that make walking a slow and dangerous task. The only way to patrol the swamp is by boat, but the hundreds of rivers and creeks of this vast delta system, make this an immense undertaking. So how do you understand and protect an animal you can't see, in a forest that does everything it can to keep you out?

Conservation teams are striving for an answer and a growing effort in Bangladesh is making headway to secure the future of this precious animal. The Bangladesh team is approaching the task from all angles: training forest guards to strengthen law enforcement, working with local communities to improve forest management, carrying out essential research, and reducing the conflict between tiger and man. They also want to highlight the plight of the Sundarbans tigers to the world, to build the support and skills needed to save the tiger in this unique environment. It is up to everyone to make sure that the footprints of the tigers are not washed away from the Sundarbans forever.