Category: The Sundarbans.

Centre estimates Sunderbans tiger count at 70

Krishnendu Mukherjee, TNN, Mar 29, 2011, 03.07am IST

The numbers game in Sunderbans is a history now, and so is the myth of 276 number of big cats in Indian part of this mangrove land as per a census report by the state in 2003-04.

The tiger census report presented by the Union ministry of forests and environment on Monday has finally put an end to the numbers mystery in Sunderbans. The report has estimated tiger density in Sunderbans at around 4.3 per 100 square kilometres. And taking into account the 1600 square kilometres land area of 2585 sq km Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, one doesn’t need a mathematician to say the number of big cats in this World Heritage Site hovers around 60-70 only. Though the report has estimated the average number of tigers in this mangrove land at 70, it has kept the lower limit at 64 and the upper limit at 90.

So, where have around 200 tigers gone in seven years? Or was the 2003-04 tiger census a complete farce?

“276 tigers never existed in Sunderbans. We have been raising the issue since last few years, but the West Bengal government was not ready to accept this,” said noted tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar. However, the state has little to offer on the Centre’s report. “We haven’t yet gone through the report. We can’t comment on it,” said S B Mondal, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife).

It may be noted that TOI had earlier reported on lower prey base and longer home range of Sunderbans tigers, which don’t suggest a healthy tiger density in this mangrove land.

“Survival of prey depends on the ecology and Sunderbans’ marshy climate and less grassland don’t support a good prey base, which in turn means less tiger density,” said Thapar. According to him, humans have become a supplementary diet to the tigers left in Indian Sunderbans.

Tushar Kanjilal, a well-known social worker, who spent long years in Sunderbans has his take. “Prey base is definitely shrinking, but the estimation of 70 seems to be too less. There was always an imbalance between prey and tigers in Sunderbans. But going by the locals and rising incidents of straying, I think tiger population has risen,” he said. Mondal added that the Centre had followed sign survey method to give the estimation. “Even this method is not error free. Sighting of tigers has definitely gone up in Sunderbans.”

However, Belinda Wright, executive director of Wildlife Protection Society of India said low prey base, triggered by the habitat and poaching in Sunderbans, can’t support good tiger density.

Quoting a study by Dr Ullas Karanth and George Schaller, Wright said: “A full-grown wild tiger needs to eat 50 cheetals per year to survive. And a block of 500 cheetals are required to provide a sustainable outcome of 50 cheetals per tiger. In other words, 500 cheetals can provide a single tiger, 50 cheetals per year for food.” Going by this theory, Sunderbans has to have over 1 lakh cheetals to sustain a tiger population of 276. “It’s almost become hard to spot a deer in Sunderbans nowadays compared to other tiger reserves in the country. This way too, the state’s claim stands no where,” added Thapar.

Though the number of 276 received severe thrashing from various fronts, funds never ran dry for Sunderbans. In 2010-11, Sunderbans received a whopping Rs 514.85 lakh from the Centre under Project Tiger’ scheme. Even tiger reserves like Nagarhole (Karnataka), Ranthambore (Rajasthan) and Kaziranga (Assam) received less funding with the figures at Rs 294 lakh, Rs 326 lakh and Rs 448 lakh respectively. According to Thapar, the Bengal government must concentrate on proper utilisation of funds, else the entire exercise would go in vain.

Some wildlife enthusiasts see silver lining in the new numbers. “One should not get demoralised with the numbers. This is just an estimation and in terrain like Sunderbans, it’s very hard to give a correct estimation. There is a broader perspective to the issue and that’s protection of the big cats,” said Joydip Kundu of Sanctuary Asia.

Meanwhile, tiger population in India has risen by almost 20% in three years. According to the census report, the estimated population of big cats in the country is at 1706, up from 1411 in 2008. Ministry sources said more areas including the Sunderbans were counted this time. Northeast Hills and Brahmaputra Flood Plains has recorded almost 48% rise in tiger population in the new estimation. Population estimation of tigers in this region stands at around 148, compared to about 100 in the last census.

lower limit upper limit avg

Sunderbans 64 90 70

Northeast Hills & 118 178 148

Brahmaputra Flood Plains

Source link

Category: The Sundarbans