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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 16:57 GMT
New hope for Bengal tigers
Map of Sundarbans mangrove forest
The BBC's Ayanjit Sen in Delhi

India and Bangladesh will work together in a biodiversity project in the Sunderbans mangrove forest.

This is part of the world's largest delta formed from sediments deposited by several major rivers including the Ganges and the Brahmaputra.

Bengal tigers are an endangered species and the project might help them survive in their home habitat.

There are more than 250 Royal Bengal tigers in the Indian side of Sundarbans.

The numbers on the Bangladeshi side are less certain.

The project includes studying the behaviour of Bengal tigers and to find out why some of them become man-eaters.

Of the 9,000 sq.kms of the Sunderbans forest, nearly 4,200 sq.kms fall within India and the rest in Bangladesh.

The Sundarban Tiger Project Director in India, Pradip Vyas, says that UNESCO and the UN Foundation will pay $125,000 for the preparation of this project.

A report on the feasibility of the project has to be ready by April next year.

Collaborative venture

Forest officials of the two countries will meet up to discuss how the project will be implemented.

Mr Vyas says the study of breeding behaviour and feeding habits of Royal Bengal tigers forms part of the project.

More than 30 people have been killed by tigers during the last two years on the Indian side of the Sundarbans.

There are man-eaters on the Bangladeshi side too.

Dead tiger
Organised gangs kill Bengal tigers

Mr Vyas said some harmful effluents enter the Sunderbans from nearby areas which may be responsible for polluting the water and this could be affecting tiger behaviour.

He says whether the presence of saline water in the Sundarbans affects the behaviour of the tigers is also being studied.

Mr Vyas says the tigers are fond of swimming across the area's many streams and channels to different islands within the forest.

Officials are also trying to find out whether saline water may be responsible for the loss of certain types of trees in the area.

The project also includes educating the local people in order to minimise poaching.

Officials say poachers take the help of local villagers in hunting the tigers.

The forests are critically important for a large number of species including the endangered tigers.

Biodiversity threatened

The project will provide alternate employment opportunities for more than three million people who live on 53 islands in the Sunderbans area.

Most of these people depend on fishing for their livelihood.

The Sundarbans authorities in India say fishing is proving difficult to sustain because of falling water levels.

Tiger stalking
Man-eaters encourage poaching

Experts say the Sundarbans area is important for conservation since it is large enough to maintain a self-sustainable tiger population.

The Sundarbans forests are well-known for tigers, spotted deer, wild boars and monitor lizards.

The mangrove forests also provide the main nursery for shrimps along the coast of eastern India and Bangladesh.

And its creeks are the spawning ground for many fish.

See also:

27 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
India's tiger success story
05 Apr 01 | South Asia
Special tiger force in India
08 Mar 01 | South Asia
Wildlife police station in India
28 Feb 01 | South Asia
Indian state probes tiger death
23 Nov 00 | South Asia
India 'failing to protect tigers'
20 Nov 00 | South Asia
Court censure for India zoos
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