Climate change and sea level rise could claim Bengal tiger habitat

SOUTHERN BANGLADESH—The projected effects of climate change and sea level rise could result in the loss of habitat for Bengal tigers, according to a report recently published by Bangladeshi, Australian and New Zealander scientists.

            The prediction was published a few weeks ahead of the Australian government confirming a small island rodent no longer exists due to manmade climate change.

            “Our results suggest that there will be a dramatic decline in suitable Bengal tiger habitats in the Bangladesh Sundarbans,” authors of the published report stated. “Other than various aspects of local climate, sea-level rise is projected to have a substantial negative impact on Bengal tiger habitats in this low-lying area. Our model predicts that due to the combined effect of climate change and sea-level rise, there will be no suitable Bengal tiger habitat remaining in the Sundarbans by 2070.”

            Nine authors from Australia, Bangladesh and New Zealand contributed to the report, entitled “Combined effects of climate change and sea-level rise project dramatic habitat loss of the globally endangered Bengal tiger in the Bangladesh Sundarbans.”

Sundarbans and the Bengal Tiger

            The Sundarbans region is located in the southwestern portion of Bangladesh; a portion of the low-lying lands and forest area spills into India, southeast of Kolkata. The southern coast of Bangladesh is a low-lying region and has long been subject to doomsday predictions of sea level rise.

            Deforestation in the Sundarbans region has also been a major environmental issue.

            “Bangladesh, being situated in a low lying flood plain delta, is one of the most vulnerable countries due to climate change and associated events,” the study’s researchers stated.

            A mangrove forest located in the Sundarbans regions is the world’s largest remaining habitat for Bengal tigers, which are native to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar and Nepal.

            “The Sundarbans, due to its geographic location is one of the world’s largest and dynamic delta system and also at the forefront of climate change and related events,” researchers of the Bengal tiger study stated in their published report. “Climate change has already caused changes in vegetation, salinity and sedimentation in the Sundarbans. The mean elevation of most of the Sundarbans is less than one meter above sea level, making it also highly vulnerable to [sea level rise].”

            Researchers added only 3,890 individual tigers exist worldwide, down from about 100,000 in the 1900s – an estimated loss of 96 percent.

            Habitat loss, hunting and illegal trade contributed to the historic loss of the wild tiger population, according to researchers, but a combination of climate change and sea level rise will be major contributors to whether the Sundarbans will be a viable habitat for the Bengal tiger between now and 2070.

            “Climate change has a more pronounced effect on Bengal tiger habitats than that of only sea level rise in the area. Together climate change and sea level rise will further exacerbate the situation in Bangladesh Sundarbans,” researchers of the published study stated. “Our model predicted that by 2070 there will be no remaining suitable Bengal tiger habitat in the Sundarbans.”

Conservation Efforts

            The study’s researchers recognized three recently established wildlife sanctuaries could help preserve the Bengal tiger. There are still concerns, however, of overall human behavior and the size of the sanctuary itself.

            “In Bangladesh Sundarbans, together the three main wildlife sanctuaries (i.e., Sundarban West, South and East) covers approximately 23 percent of the total Sundarbans reserved forest owned by Bangladesh Forest Department. This figure is still inadequate, considering the fact that, Sundarbans is the largest wild habitat of Bengal habitat and only place where tigers are adapted to live in mangrove ecosystems,” the study’s researchers stated.

            Tiger poaching, water divergence, wood collecting and fishing also pose significant threats to the Bengal tiger habitat in the Sundarbans, according to researchers.

            “A high level of tiger-human conflict manifested in human-killing, livestock depredation, and ultimately the retribution killings of tigers by affected local communities also common in the Sundarbans,” researchers continued, adding three tigers are killed by humans each year in the Sundarbans region.

            Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans region prey on the spotted deer, wild boar, rhesus monkey and crabs.

Rodent Goes Extinct in Australia

            The dire prediction of habitat loss for Bengal tigers in Bangladesh was followed by the news a few weeks later of the extinction of a rodent species in Australia. The rodent’s extinction is considered to be the first mammal to disappear from Earth because of manmade climate change.

            Bramble Cay melomys were believed to be extinct since 2016; the small rodent was officially confirmed as extinct by a member of Australia’s parliament on Feb. 18.

            Melissa Price, who serves as Australia’s Minister for the Environment, listed the Bramble Cay melomys, which were found in the Torres Strait between Queensland state and Papua New Guinea, as extinct in an official statement. The rodent was also known as the mosaic-tailed rat and lived on Bramble Cay, an island no more than 10 feet above sea level on its best day, according to National Geographic.

“The rats were first seen by Europeans on the island in 1845, and there were several hundred there as of 1978. But since 1998, the part of the island that sits above high tide has shrunk from 9.8 acres to 6.2 acres. That means the island’s vegetation has been shrinking,” a National Geographic article on the Bramble Cay melomys stated.