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New Study shows Bengal Tiger’s Habitat in Danger

A new study by WWF scientists and partner organizations has found global climate change could shrink Bangladesh’s Sundarbans tiger habitat by 96 percent, potentially reducing the tiger population to fewer than 20 breeding individuals. An estimated sea level rise of 11.2 inches above 2000 levels by 2070 means this unique mangrove ecosystem could disappear within half a century.

“If we don’t take steps to address the impacts of climate change on the Sundarbans, the only way its tigers will survive this century is with scuba gear,” says Colby Loucks, WWF’s deputy director of conservation science and the lead author of the study Sea Level Rise and Tigers: Predicted Impacts to Bangladesh’s Sundarbans Mangroves. “Tigers are a highly adaptable species, thriving from the snowy forests of Russia to the tropical forests of Indonesia. The projected sea level rise in the Sundarbans will likely outpace the tiger’s ability to adapt.”

The Sundarbans delta is the largest mangrove forest in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is shared by India and Bangladesh and sits at the mouth of the Ganges River. It is home to an estimated 254-432 Bengal tigers, the only tiger population adapted to live in mangroves. The tigers here regularly swim between islands and are the only tigers to have crabs and other seafood as an important part of their diet.

The area is an amazing ecosystem that houses a plethora of species including the spotted deer (the tiger’s prey), water birds, many kinds of fish, marine mammals, crocodiles, and snakes. The landscape naturally protects the area from natural disasters such as cyclones, storm surges, and wind damage. The mangroves are home not only to endangered fauna like tigers, but also to several million people who depend on the Sundarbans for their livelihoods.

The Bengal tiger population has already been under threat from poaching and habitat destruction and loss, and research suggests that the seas may be rising faster than originally thought.

Worldwide, tigers occupy only 7 percent of their historic range with as few as 3,200 left in the wild. The study encourages local governments to take immediate action to conserve and expand mangroves while cracking down on poaching. It suggests that globally, countries should work strongly on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to save the Sundarbans.

But the news is not all bad. From the local level to the global, WWF is working to double the number of wild tigers across their range by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022.

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