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Registered charity in Ireland
Number 15425

Sundarbans Information

Sundarbans Tiger Reserve in the Bay of Bengal covers a total area of 10,000 sq kms in West Bengal, India. There is a larger portion of the mangrove forest in Bangladesh. It is the largest mangrove forest in the world and extremely important for conservation of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger, crocodiles, monitor lizards, snakes, mud-skippers, and many other species.

Sundarbans area map

Communities in Sundarbans

There are 300,000 acres of cultivable land in the Sundarbans Islands. Much of this is used for mono-cropping of rice, which is the staple diet of these 1.4 million people. Other crops include sugarcane and betel. Some families have fruit trees around their mud huts and these are a valuable source of nutrition. We are promoting nutritional gardening in our Self-Help-Groups. Many households have a pond for washing and feeding the animals but these ponds are often polluted. These ponds fill up with rainwater during monsoon.

Most of the tiger widows are landless and live below the poverty line and so must buy rice or depend on the generosity of their neighbours for food. They have asked us to provide small loans for their needs such as goats, hens, ducks, geese and pigs. Many of the widow's houses are in a desperate state of disrepair. Some who do not have houses at all and stay with neighbours are sometimes taken advantage of in these situations. It is our aim to provide loans for materials for the building of houses and the structural improvements necessary.

The soils of these islands have very high clay and salt content. There are seasonal problems with drinking-water shortages and tidal flooding so the saline nature of the soil is a critical issue. Soil testing is not practiced mostly. The local sales-rep from a fertiliser company decides nutrient requirements for each crop. It is a growing problem as farmers seek to spend more money on fertilisers every year. It is also our aim to raise awareness about the over use of fertilisers and the inevitable degradation of the soil. Information on such issues can be given out at self-help-group meetings.

Sundarbans dawn

Wildlife

Royal Bengal Tiger

Panthera tigris tigris

Tigers vary greatly in size and appearance. They can be found widely in Asia, from India to Siberia and Java. The Indian or Bengal Tiger can weigh from 300 - 550 pounds, about the same size as a Lion. The Royal Bengal Tiger is about 1m tall and 2.5 m in length.

Royal Bengal Sundarban Tiger

Tigers have very sharp claws and teeth and they can move quickly and quietly. They can cover fifteen feet in one leap. In contrast to our domestic cats, tigers are very good swimmers. They like to live close to water.

Tigers usually hunt at night and alone. They prey on all types of game from fully-grown elephants, bears and buffalo to crocodiles and fish. Stalking its victim they seize its prey by the throat, frequently dislocating its neck with the impact of the rush. Generally avoiding man they can become man-eaters once their instinctive fear of man is overcome. This is the natural outcome in the Sundarbans where human populations have encroached on the tigers habitat.

Generally avoiding man they can become man-eaters once their instinctive fear of man is overcome. This is the natural outcome in the Sundarbans where human populations have encroached on the tigers habitat.

A tigress can have up to six cubs, although usually the number is two or three. At the age of six to eight weeks, they begin to go on hunting trips with their mother. They usually stay with her for a year, learning the skills of survival. By the age of three or four years old they are ready to raise their own families. Zoo tigers can live up to twenty years, however they seldom reach this age in the wild.

Crocodiles

The Sundarbans is home to the largest estuarine crocodiles in the world. They inhabit large streams, swamps and marshes, travelling from island to island. With a vicious and fearless temperament, they are dreaded by the locals due to their large size., measuring up to thirty feet. They usually live on fish, birds and crabs. With strong jaws they can also grip animals as large as deer, cattle and sometimes humans. Once in the water, twisting and turning, the crocodile drags its victim beneath the surface to drown. All are dangerous when cornered or wounded.

Other Species of wildlife occurring in the Sundarbans are:

Mammals
  • Rheuss Monkey
  • Spotted Deer
  • Axis Deer
  • Marsh Deer
  • Wild Boar
  • Fishing Cats
  • Jungle Cats
  • Otters
  • Dolphins
In the Water
  • Monitor Lizard
  • Mudskippers
  • Crabs
  • Shrimp
  • Mud Lobster
  • Sharks
  • Sea Turtle
  • Hard Shelled Batgur Terrapin
  • Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
Amphibians
  • Chequered Killback
  • King Cobra
  • Python
  • Salvator Lizards
Migratory Birds
  • Seagull
  • Tern
  • Whimprel
  • Black Tailed Godwit
  • Little Stint
  • Eastern Knot
  • Curlew
  • Sandpiper
  • Golden Plover
  • Pintail
  • White Eyed Pochard
  • Whistling Teal
Other Common Birds
  • Heron
  • Egrit
  • Cormorant
  • Fishing Eagle
  • White Sea Eagle
  • Kingfisher

Fishing

The Sundarbans is situated in the large basin of the Bay of Bengal. The rivers coming into the bay include the Ganges, Hoogly, Brahampuratha and the Matla. There is slow flow due to the low gradient in these channels as they weave their way around the islands. However there is a problem with erosion of island embankments in many channels. Sundarbans is a special habitat in the mixing zone of fresh and saline water.

In the populated areas there is shallow-water fishing, Women and children walk in the mud in the tidal zone dragging small nets behind them. They are in constant danger of crocodile attacks. Health problems arise from prolonged periods in salt water. The tiny mesh in these nets collects everything that they come upon, particularly the eggs of fish and the prawn seeds. Thus they clean out resources for the future development of fish populations. It is environmentally un-sustainable. Also this shallow water fishing has detrimental effects on the root lenticels of the mangrove trees. They suffer as a result of trampling.

Prices are high as the catch is then farmed by middlemen on the islands who then sell to markets in Japan and USA. The aim of the Tiger Widows Organisation is to provide loans for other livelihoods on the islands.

Forest Resources

The Sundarbans is the largest Mangrove Forest in the world. It is situated in the Bay of Bengal and is shared by India and Bangladesh. It has the status of National Park, World Heritage Site and World Biosphere Reserve.

Mangrove forests grow in saline mud flats in tidal estuaries. The trees are of a special nature. Their roots come up out of the mud to receive oxygen from the air through tiny lenticels. These small projectile roots trap mud and other particles in the water to form more land. The parent stem sends out roots in a curved fashion to grow about a meter away so if left to itself the mangrove would expand.

Another feature of mangrove trees is their pollination. The large fruit develops on the branch and the root proceeds from underneath while the seed is germinating. Over time the root extends towards the water and mud to establish itself there or move on the tide to another potential colony.

Flora include:

The 3m impenetrable Goran Sundari Trees, Genwa, Dhundal, Passur, Garjan, Kankra

In Sundarbans, the majority of the people are very poor. They explore the dangerous tiger reserve in search of food, fuel and other resources to survive. They carry no defences against the tigers. The forest provides much needed fuel, timber for construction, honey and fruit. However it is illegal for them to go to the forest without a Forest Department Permit.

While interviewing for the Tiger Widows Survey it was revealed that many of these people would not enter the forest if they had another source of income. The aim of the Tiger Widows Organisation is to provide families with an alternative source of income. We plan to do this by the provision of loans and self-help-groups. The widows have lost their husbands to tigers, they do not want to go into the forest but they must do so to survive.

Embankments

The populated islands of the Sundarbans consist of a network of raised mud walkways around large paddy fields. Around the perimeter are embankments. Communication is in the form of boats that travel to and from each island.

There is an on-going problem with mud embankments or sea walls on these islands. The land is flat and is prone to severe flooding during the monsoon. This is due mainly to the depression in the sea floor of the Bay of Bengal. The sea walls are thin and are being eroded by the constant action of under-currents and tidal pressures.

Decades ago the government constructed brick embankments in some areas but these are now out-dated and insufficient. There is immeasurable suffering due to the flooding of islands in Sundarbans. Our aim is to help the families who have been victims of flooding. We can provide loans to the poorest of the poor for housing and essentials for survival. We can also facilitate a platform for village voice.

There is a need for an effective early warning of cyclones and of flood prevention in the Bay of Bengal. During a cyclone a surge of water can travel long distances gaining height and weight. These huge sea surges reach the islands and flood the entire area causing deaths and suffering. Mangrove forests are a natural barrier to waves such as these.

Please consider contributing to our valuable work in Sundarbans to protect its people and nature.

Thank you,

Sinead

Families in Sundarbans who participate do not have to risk their lives by going into the forest. This is how we are...

Serving the People to Save the Tiger

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