Tiger count up in Sunderbans, latest survey puts total over 85 

The number of tigers in the Indian part of Sunderbans (other part lies in Bangladesh) is healthy and rising. A recent camera-trap exercise has spotted at least 9 more tigers over last year’s figures in the entire mangroves, including the tiger reserve area and the South 24-Parganas forest division. 

The assessment exercise by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had in 2015 put the total tiger count in the Sunderbans at 76. This year, state foresters have put the number at more than 85 on the basis of camera-trap images, but claim the number could be more since it is not possible to photograph all the big cats using camera traps. 

This development, along with the recent sightings of otters, indicate a revival of health of the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest spanning two countries. This is the first time that the camera-trap exercise covered the entire Indian side of Sunderbans — the tiger reserve area and the forests outside. The exercise was completed jointly by WWF India and the state forest department. 

While chief wildlife warden Pradeep Vyas refused to divulge details and restricted himself to saying that a “report had been prepared and would be submitted next week”, sources in the know claimed that at least 25 tigers, including a cub, were found outside the reserve area or the South 24-Parganas forest division. The remaining 60 were spotted inside the tiger reserve area. 

The camera-trap images were analysed with the help of a special software that matched the stripe patterns of the big cats to arrive at a figure of 85, the sources explained. The same exercise last year had projected the cat population in the mangroves at 76. 

An official said the recent sightings also show that the population inside the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (STR) area is healthy. In September, a mating pair was sighted in a forest within the tourism zone of Sajnekhali. Tigers were also reportedly sighted by tourists during monsoon and Durga puja festival. 

The camera-trap exercise, that was started in December 2015 in the South 24-Parganas forest division, was completed in April 2016 at the Basirhat range that falls in the STR zone. A similar report released by the state forest department in 2013 had predicted the presence of at least 101 tigers in the mangroves. 

On being asked about that, a forester said that a refined technology used this time gave a more reliable figure. “Besides, the cubs were not taken into account. And, as we said earlier, we can’t expect all the tigers to appear before the cameras. So the numbers can be even more,” he added. (Times of India)

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