More than 100 tigers now reside in the Sundarbans. The area might have maxed out its tiger-carrying capacity.
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An estimate report on the number of Tigers, Co-predators & Prey in India was formulated in 2022. A detailed version of the same was released on Saturday. According to the reports, there are 103 tigers in the state of West Bengal. Two of them live in the North Bengal national parks. The rest 101 tigers call the Sundarbans their home.
In 2018, the same survey estimated that 88 tigers lived in West Bengal. A clear population breakup, however, was not provided then. Debal Roy, the chief wildlife warden said that the number 2 for North Bengal was narrowed down after the officials considered the camera-trapped images of the two tigers – one in Buxa and another in Neora Valley. This is also the first official recognition of tiger presence in North Bengal, since 2014.
The concise report that was released in April marked that there has been sighting of at least 100 unique tigers. The number 101 was chalked out after keeping the margin of error in mind. The population estimation of big cats in Sundarbans is often marked by errors as there are chances of overlapping and misidentification of the Indian big cats with the ones from Bangladesh.
The tiger population in the Sundarbans has been gradually rising since 2010. Back then, there were only 70 tigers in the region.
What is Carrying Capacity?
But the steady increase in population is also affecting the carrying capacity of the area.
The maximum number of a particular species that can live in an area without any harm and discomfort is called the area’s Carrying Capacity. If an area exceeds its limits there might be instances of man-animal conflict or even inter-species conflict.
Debal Roy said that there have been reports about the Indian Sundarbans reaching the maximum limit in tiger count since 2018, but the number is increasing steadily at 6% since 2014.
Sundarbans is reaching its Carrying Capacity
In an earlier study that was conducted in Sundarbans, keeping the density of spotted deer and available biomass in mind, the tiger-carrying capacity of Sundarbans is around 4.7 per hundred square kilometers. This study was conducted by the Tiger Conservation Authority, Global Tiger Forum in the Society of Population Ecology journal, and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
Now, as per the data available since 2018, 2,300 square kilometers of area are occupied by tigers. The Indian Sundarbans account for 4,266 square kilometers, out of which 55% is forest land. Considering all this data the tiger density in Sundarbans adds up to 4.3.
It is dangerously close to the upper limit.
YV Jhala, the former dean of WII and one of the authors of the recent study has said that the figure reached after the study will be closer to the carrying capacity.
Why is it alarming?
The Sundarbans are a group of river islands formed near the mouth of the Hooghly River. These islands are interspersed with numerous streams and small rivers. As the esteemed author Amitav Ghosh describes the islands in his ‘The Hungry Tide’, they indeed fan out at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal, connecting India and Bangladesh, like the ends of a Bengali mother’s saree (locally called ‘aanchol’).
Some of these islands are extremely difficult to reach out to. Some of them are just slabs of mud that are noticeable only during the low tides. These islands often get engulfed in the sea during cyclones.
The Sundarbans are also UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve. The area gets its name from a type of mangrove tree named Sundari. Even in the age of the Anthropocene Man and wildlife have always resided in quiet harmony in the Sundarbans. The increasing human population often encroaches into the tiger territory and sometimes the tigers also wander out in search of food. The increase in tiger density will surely hamper the long-existent harmony between both species.