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Sundarbans National Park

The Sundarbans National Park () is a National Park, Tiger Reserve, and a Biosphere Reserve located in the Sundarbans delta in the Indian state of West Bengal. This region is densely covered by mangrove forests, and is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger. It is also home to a variety of bird, reptile and invertebrate species, including the salt-water crocodile. The present Sundarbans National Park was declared as the core area of Sundarbans Tiger Reserve in 1973 and a wildlife sanctuary in 1977. On May 4, 1984 it was declared a National Park.

Contents


Geography

This satellite image shows the forest in the protected area. The Sundarbans appears deep green, surrounded to the north by a landscape of agricultural lands, which appear lighter green, towns, which appear tan, and streams, which are bl|A map of the protected areas of the Indian Sunderbans, showing the boundaries of the Tiger Reserve, the National Park and the three Wildlife Sanctuaries, conservation and lodging centers, subsistence towns, and access points. The entire forested (dark green) area constitutes the Biosphere Reserve, with the remaining forests outside the national park and wildlife sanctuaries being given the status of a Reserve Forest.

Sundarbans National Park is located in between 30 24' - 30 28' N latitude and between 77 40' - 77 44' E longitude in the South 24 Parganas district in the Indian state of West Bengal. The average altitude of the park is 7.5 m above sea level. The park is made up of 54 small islands and is crisscrossed by several distributaries of the Ganges.

Sundarbans National Park is the largest estuarine mangrove forest in the world.

Climate

The average minimum and maximum temperature is 20 C and 48 C respectively. Rainfall is heavy with high humidity as high as 80% as it is close to the Bay of Bengal. The monsoon lasts from mid-June to mid-September. Prevailing wind is from the north and north-east from October to mid-March and south west westerlies prevails from mid-March to September. Storms which sometimes develop into cyclones are common during the month of May and October.

Administration

A map of the Indian Sunderbans, showing the boundaries of the protected areas, conservation and lodging centres, subsistence towns, and access points

The Directorate of Forest of the Government of West Bengal is responsible for the administration and management of Sundarbans, which is headquartered at Canning. The principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife & Bio-Diversity & ex-officio Chief Wildlife Warden, West Bengal is the senior most executive officer looking over the administration of the park. The Chief Conservator of Forests (South) & Director, Sundarban Biosphere Reserve is the administrative head of the park at the local level. He is assisted by a Deputy Field Director and an Assistant Field Director. The park area is divided into two ranges, overseen by range forest officers. Each range is further sub-divided into beats.

The park also has some floating watch stations and camps to protect the property from poachers. The park receives financial aid from the State Government as well as the Ministry of Environment and Forests of Government of India under various Plan and Non-Plan Budgets. Additional funding is received under the Project Tiger from the Central Government. In 2001, a grant of US$ 20,000 was received as a preparatory assistance for promotion between India and Bangladesh from the World Heritage Fund.

Eco-geography, rivers and watercourses

There are seven main rivers and innumerable watercourses forming a network of channels at this estuarine delta. All the rivers have a southward course towards the sea. The eco-geography of this area is totally dependent on the tidal effect of two flow tides and two ebb tides occurring within 24 hours with a tidal range of 3-5m and up to 8m (Ghosh & Mandal, 1989; Banerjee, 1998) in normal spring tide, inundating the whole of Sunderbans in varying depths. The tidal action deposits silts back on the channels and raising the bed, it forms new islands and creeks contributing to uncertain geomorphology (Bhattacharya, 1989). There is a great natural depression called Swatch of No Ground in the Bay of Bengal between 21 00' to 21 22' latitude where, the depth of water changes suddenly from 20m to 500m (Fergusson, 1963; Ghosh & Mandal, 1989). This mysterious depression pushes back the silts towards south and/or further east to form new islands.

Mudflats

The Sunderbans mudflats (Banerjee, 1998) are found at the estuary and on the deltaic islands where low velocity of river and tidal current occurs. The flats are exposed in low tides and submerged in high tides, thus being changed morphologically even in one tidal cycle. The interiorparts of the mudflats are the right environment for mangroves.

Chargheri Char is a mudflat which is being developed as a tourist spot in the Sundarbans. Tourists must visit this place to get a feel of the mudflats of Sundarbans.

Flora and fauna

The coastal active delta of Sunderbans at the mouth of Bay of Bengal in India, having a complex geomorphologic and hydrological character with climatic hazards, has a vast area of mangrove forests with a variety of flora and diverse fauna in a unique ecosystem. The natural environment and coastal ecosystem of this Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site is under threat of physical disaster due to unscientific and excessive human interferences. Conservation and environmental management plan for safeguarding this unique coastal ecology and ecosystem is urgently required.

Flora

The mangrove vegetation of Sundarbans consists of 64 plant species[1] and they have the capacity to withstand estuarine conditions and saline inundation on account of tidal effects. In the month of April and May the flaming red leaves of the Genwa (Excoecaria agallocha) the crab-like red flowers of the Kankra (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza) and the yellow flowers of Khalsi (Aegiceras corniculatum) can be seen, which add a beauty to the surroundings. Some of the other commonly found plants and trees in the park are Dhundal (or cannonball mangrove, Xylocarpus granatum), Passur (Xylocarpus mekongensis), Garjan (Rhizophora spp.), Sundari (Heritiera fomes) and Goran (Ceriops decandra).

Fauna

The Sundarbans forest is home to more than 400 tigers. The Royal Bengal Tigers have developed a unique characteristic of swimming in the saline waters, and are world famous for their man-eating tendencies.

Apart from the Royal Bengal Tiger; Fishing Cats, Leopard Cats, Macaques, Wild Boar, Indian Grey Mongoose, Fox, Jungle Cat, Flying Fox, Pangolin, Chital, are also found in abundance in the Sundarbans.

Census results

Year of census Spotted deer Rhesus Monitor lizard Wild boar South 24 Parganas Tiger Population Sunderbans Tiger Reserve Tiger Population
Male Female Cub Total Male Female Cub Total Estimated
1973 Incomplete census 50+ 50+
1976 66 72 43 181 181
1977 Sex not determined 205 205
1983 137 115 12 264 264
1989 30,886 126 109 34 269 269
1992 92 132 27 251 251
1993 30,978 37,691 10,272 11,869
1996 95 126 21 242 242
1997 13 16 6 35 99 137 27 263 298
1999 9 16 5 30 96 131 27 254 284
2001 7 13 6 26 93 129 23 245 271
2004 7 14 4 25 83 133 33 249 274

Avifauna

Blue-eared Kingfisher sighted in the Sundarbans. Some of the more popular birds found in this region are openbill storks, black-headed ibis, Water Hens, Coots, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Pariah Kites, Brahminy Kite, Marsh Harriers, Swamp Partridges, Red Junglefowls, Spotted Doves, Common Mynahs, Jungle Crows, Jungle Babblers, Cotton Teals, Herring Gulls, Caspian Terns, Gray Herons, brahminy ducks, Spot-billed Pelicans, Great Egrets, Night Herons, Common Snipes, Wood Sandpipers, Green Pigeons, Rose Ringed Parakeets, paradise-flycatchers, cormorants, Grey-headed Fish Eagles, White-bellied Sea Eagles, Seagulls, Common Kingfishers, Peregrine falcons, Woodpeckers, Whimbrels, Black-tailed Godwits, Little Stints, Eastern Knots, Curlews, Golden Plovers, Northern Pintails, White-eyed Pochards and Whistling teals.

Aqua fauna

Some of the fish and amphibians found in the park are Sawfish, Butter Fish, Electric rays, Silver carp, Star Fish, Common Carp, King Crabs, Prawn, Shrimps, Gangetic Dolphins, Skipping Frogs, Common Toads and Tree Frogs.

Reptiles

A crocodile at Sundarbans. The Sundarbans National Park houses an excellent number of reptiles as well, including estuarine crocodiles, chameleons, monitor lizards turtles, including Olive Ridley, hawksbill, and green turtles; and snakes including pythons, King Cobras, rat snakes, Russell's vipers, Dog Faced Water Snakes, Chequered Killbacks, and Common Kraits.

Endangered species

The endangered species that lives within the Sundarbans are Royal Bengal Tiger, Saltwater Crocodile, River Terrapin, Olive Ridley Turtle, Gangetic dolphin, Ground Turtle, Hawks Bill Turtle and Mangrove horseshoe crab.

Management and special projects

Patrolling boat in Sundarbans The park has got protection since its creation. The core area is free from all human disturbances like collection of wood, honey, fishing and other forest produces. However, in buffer area fishing, honey collection and wood cutting are permitted in limited form. Protection of the park from poaching and theft of forest products is done by well armed forest staffs who patrols in motorboats and launches. Moreover forest offices and camps are located at several important parts of the park. Anti-poaching camps are manned by 2 to 3 knowledgeable labourers under supervision of concerned beat guard/Forester/Range officer.

Habitat of wildlife is well maintained through eco-conservation, eco-development, training, education and research. 10 Forest Protection Committees and 14 Eco-development Committees have been formed in the fringe of Sundarbans Tiger Reserve helps in this regard. Seminars, workshops, awareness camps, etc. are organised frequently in the vicinity of park to educate the people on eco-conservation, eco-development and such other issues. Mangrove and other plants are planted in the fringe area to meet the local need of fuel wood for about 1000 villages and to conserve the buffer area. Conservation of soil is done to maintain the ecological balance. Several sweet water ponds have been dug up inside the park to provide drinking water to the wild animals.

Controlling man-eating tigers is another major activity. The number of casualties has been reduced from 40 to 10 per year. The reduction in number of casualties is a result of strict control over the movement of the people inside the tiger reserve, alternative income generation and awareness building among people. It is also believed that due to use of human masks and electric human dummies the tigers will stay away from the people. Straying of tigers into nearby villages is prevented through effective measures like nylon net fencing, solar illumination of villages, etc. The youths of the villages are given training in controlling the straying of tigers into the villages.

The Mangrove Interpretation Centre is established at Sajnekhali to make the local people and tourists aware about importance of conservation of nature in general and specially the mangrove eco-systems.

Constraints

Though there is tough protection in the park there are a few loopholes. The geographical topography with hostile terrain criss-crossed by several rivers and their tributaries, long international border with Bangladesh, fishing trawlers and launches helps in poaching, cutting of wood and also affecting the mangrove forests. Lack of staffs, infrastructure and lack of funds also added up the factors.

Park-specific information

Activities

The best and only means of travelling the park is to hire a boat and float down the various lanes formed by the many flowing rivers. You can travel in any of the local boats or in luxury launches namely M.V. Chitrarekha and M.V. Madhukar, which are operated by the tourism department.

Apart from viewing the wildlife from the boat safaris, you can also visit the following places in Sundarbans which are Bhagatpur Crocodile Project which is a crocodile breeding farm (access from Namkhana), Sagar Island, Jambudweep, Sudhanyakali watchtower, Buriidabri Tiger Project, Netidhopani Watchtower, Haliday Island (famous for Barking Deer), Kanak (nesting place of Olive Ridley Turtle), Sajankhali Bird Sanctuary (famous for avian fauna).

Lodging

Forest lodge and forest rest-houses are available for accommodation at Sajnekhali, Bakkhali and Piyali. The cruise launches MV Chitralekha and MV Sarbajaya also have lodging facility.

Lodging facilities are also available at Sunderban Tiger Camp on Dayapur Island, a luxury eco friendly resort overlooking the national park, and at Sundarbans Jungle Camp on Bali Island run by Help Tourism Group with collaboration with local communities and members of Bali Nature and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Approach

  • Nearest airport: Dum Dum airport at Kolkata is 112 km away.
  • Nearest railhead: Canning is 48 km away from the Park.
  • Nearest Road: Road transportation is available from Kolkata for Namkhana (105 km), Sonakhali (100 km), Raidighi (76 km), Canning (64 km), and Najat (92 km), which are all near the Sunderbans and have access to the riverine waterways.
  • Nearest town: Gosaba is 50 km away.
  • Nearest city: Kolkata which is 112 km away.
  • You can reach Sundarbans National Park by road from Kolkata to "Jhar-Khali" by crossing the river bridge "Hogol" situated on the other end of biggest delta "Basanti". about 78 km from kolkata.

General tips

The ideal time to visit the park is between November and February, when the tigers can be seen on the river banks sunbathing.

Entry Permits: The foreign tourists who want to visit the tiger projects and the Sajnekhali, have to obtain special permits for entry into the Sundarbans National Park. Tourists should contact the Secretary, West Bengal Forest Department, Writer's Building, Kolkata - 700001. To obtain the entry permit for other areas of the Sundarban, the tourists must visit the Field Director, Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, PO Canning, District 24 Parganas, West Bengal. However, a boat cruise through Sunderbans outside the sanctuary requires no entry permit.

Sunderbans Tiger Reserve

Background

Sunderban mangroves form part of the sub-continent s largest mangrove system with a tiger population in a distinct ecological setting. These forests have salt water crocodiles, estuarine and marine turtles and a number of bird species. Besides tiger, the reserve has fishing cat, spotted deer, rhesus monkey and wild pigs.

Area details of Sunderbans Tiger Reserve

  • Total geographical area: 2585 km2
  • Political units: South 24 Paragana(s) (West Bengal)
  • Population density: 1437.4 km2
  • Total forested area: 1474 km2

Sunderbans landscape is continuous with the mangrove habitat in Bangladesh.

Ecological services: On an average 500 quintals of honey and 30 quintals of wax are collected each year by local people under licence from Forest Department (buffer area).

The habitat is traversed by many narrow tidal channels forming small to large islands. Tigers readily cross these islands and man-tiger interface conflicts are common.

The Sunderbans are isolated with no forest connection to other tiger occupied main land. Hence, there is heavy biotic pressure for forest resources.

The estimation of tiger population in Sunderbans, as a part of the all India tiger estimation using the refined methodology, could not be carried out owing to the unique habitat and obliteration of evidences due to high / low tides. Phase-I data collection has been completed and process is on for tiger estimation using a combination of radio telemetry and pugmark deposition rate from known tigers.

Damage from Cyclone Aila

It has been reported that the Cyclone Aila struck Sunderbans on 25.5.2009, causing damage to field camps and fringe villages bordering the said reserve. The breaches in the embankments on the village side have caused large scale flooding, leaving lakhs of people marooned in the area. The field camps were under 12 to 15 feet of water for around 7 hours, resulting in soil erosion and damage to staff quarters, generators and bamboo pilling. There has been a report of a tiger straying inside an abandoned cattle shed in a village, which was captured and released back in the wild. No tiger death has been reported, apart from mortality of two spotted deer. It is learnt that several NGOs have also been involved in the relief operation.

Based on an advisory sent from this end, the Forest Department of the State has constituted a Committee and has assessed a damage of almost Rs. 111.50 lakhs. Central assistance amounting to Rs. 1 crore under Project Tiger has been provided to the State for restoring the damage done to infrastructure.

Issues

(i) Man-tiger conflict due to frequent straying of tiger.

(ii) Tiger Estimation using the refined method not yet completed.

(iii) Tiger Conservation Plan awaited.

(iv) Constitution of the State level Steering Committee under the Chairmanship of the Chief Minister is awaited (Statutory requirement).

(v) Constitution of reserve-specific Tiger Conservation Foundation is awaited.

References

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