Climate change threatens Bengal tiger habitat

Endangered Bengal tigers are facing a new peril, as climate change and rising sea levels threaten their remaining coastal habitat, new research has found.

University of the Sunshine Coast Senior Research Fellow Dr Sharif Mukul, lead author of a study published in Science of the Total Environment, says the tigers are in danger of extinction in the next 50 years.

“Spanning more than 10,000 square kilometres, the low-lying Sundarbans region of Bangladesh and India is the biggest mangrove forest on Earth, and the most critical area for Bengal tiger survival,” said Dr Sharif, a member of USC’s Tropical Forests and People Research Centre.

“What is most terrifying is that our analyses suggest tiger habitats in the Sundarbans will vanish entirely by 2070,” he said.

He and a team of researchers used computer simulations to assess the ongoing suitability of the region for tigers and their prey species, using estimates of future climate trends from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their analyses included factors such as extreme weather events and sea-level rise.

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“We saw a picture of what could happen if we don’t start to look after Bengal tigers and their critical habitats,” said Dr Sharif, who is also an Assistant Professor at Independent University in Bangladesh.

Study co-author Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University said fewer than 4,000 Bengal tigers are alive today.

“Beyond climate change, the Sundarbans are under growing pressure from industrial developments, new roads, and greater poaching,” said Professor Laurance.

“There is no other place like the Sundarbans left on Earth, he said.

“We have to look after this iconic ecosystem if we want amazing animals like the Bengal tiger to have a chance of survival.”

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