The interconnected web of health and the environment never ceases to amaze me. A good example is a new report from India’s Sundarban islands suggesting that climate change, among other things, is contributing to an increase in tiger attacks:
Wildlife experts say endangered tigers in the world’s largest reserve are turning on humans because rising sea levels and coastal erosion are steadily shrinking the tigers’ natural habitat.
The Sundarbans, a 26,000 sq km area of low-lying swamps on India’s border with Bangladesh, is dotted with hundreds of small islands criss-crossed by water channels.
“In the past six months, seven fishermen were killed in an area called Netidhopani,” says Pranabes Sanyal of the World Conservation Union.
“Owing to global warming, the fragile Sundarbans lost 28% of its habitat in the last 40 years. A part of it is the core tiger reserve area from where their prey migrated.” (New Scientist and Reuters)
The disappearance of the mangrove stands as natural camouflage also makes the tigers more vulnerable to poachers. OK, maybe this story doesn’t seem so unusual. When you see the various pieces of it it all makes sense. But imagining it ahead of time isn’t so easy. Tiger attacks and climate change? Of course maybe if I knew more about tigers I would have predicted it. I would never have thought crocodiles were a major prey of tigers, for example:
But as sea levels rise, two islands have already disappeared and others are vulnerable. Wildlife experts say the destruction of the mangroves means the tigers’ most common prey, such as crocodiles, fish and big crabs, is dwindling.
These islands were said to be home to more than 500 tigers in the 1960s. Now the estimated number is down by half or, by some accounts, even more, over 80%, under the twin onslaughts of poaching and habitat loss. These islands are a unique habitat, but the tiger is disappearing all over India because of the same pressures. A century ago there were an estimated 40,000 tigers. Now the number is less than 1500. The loss seems to be accelerating. In 2002 there were over twice as many.
Maybe my grandchildren will still be able to show their children live tigers in a zoo somewhere. Maybe they will have to settle for old films, restored to play on whatever device will be used then to display recorded images.