New Delhi: A recent study published in the journal Science of The Total Environment has warned that climate change and the subsequent rise in sea levels could wipe out one of the largest habitats of the Bengal tigers.
The Sundarbans, an expansive mangrove forest that stretches across India and Bangladesh, is one of the last remaining tiger strongholds and home to the world’s largest population of the endangered Bengal tigers.
However, given that the Sundarbans are a low lying area – 70% of the land is just a few feet above sea level – a rising sea jeopardises the marshy land and the rich ecosystem it supports.
The study, which analyses the combined effects of climate change on the habitat of the Bengal tigers, used computer simulations to create climate scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the years 2050 and 2070.
According to the New York Times, the study concluded that “by 2070, there will be no suitable tiger habitats remaining in the Bangladesh Sundarbans”.
An additional factor exacerbating the Sundarban’s survival is the increasing salinity in the water – caused by reduced rainfall and rising sea levels – which will destroy the Sundri trees and thus the tigers’ mangrove habitat.
Sharif Mukul, the study’s coauthor and an assistant professor at the Independent University of Bangladesh, told CNN that in the absence of the mangroves and the Sundri trees, there will be no fresh water. And if sea levels rise, “Bengal tigers might not have any way to [survive].”
Additionally, as the Sundarbans floods and the Bengal tigers’ habitat shrinks, the tigers could be forced to enter human settlements in the area.
India is currently home to almost 70% of the world’s tiger population. Habitat loss and hunting for illegal trading of animal body parts had precipitated a sharp drop in the tiger population from an estimated 100,000 in the 1990s to fewer than 4,000.
The spike in the tiger population by 30% in India has been attributed to a decade-long effort to fight poaching and improve tiger conservation efforts.
Just last week, a sweeping UN report warned that as many as one million plant and animal species were at risk of extinction posing a serious threat to ecosystems all over the world. The rising of global temperature and sea levels has dire and cascading consequences for animal habitats, coral reefs and flood-prone areas.