Sunderbans
 

Sunderbans Fact file

Area: 2608 sq. kms. Altitude: Sea Level. Temperature (deg C): Summer- Max. 42,
Min. 37. Winter- Max. 29, Min. 9.2. Clothing: Summer- Tropical/Cotton, Winter-
Woolens. Languages spoken: Bengali, Hindi, English. Best season: September to
March. July to September for Sajnekhali Bird Sanctuary.


Sunderbans, the world's largest estuarine forest and delta covered by mangrove forests and vast saline mud flats is situated on the lower end of Gangetic West Bengal. A land of 54 tiny islands, criss-crossed by innumerable tributaries of the Ganges that was once infested by Arakanese and Portuguese pirates is now the abode of varied flora & fauna population. Sunderban is bound on the west by river Muriganga and on the east by rivers Harinbhahga and Raimangal. Other major rivers flowing through this eco-system are Saptamukhi, Thakurain Matla and Gosaba.

Unlike other wildlife parks, where roads, jeeps & guides provide a semblance of control, here visitors will find themselves holding their breath and stiffening to a state of alertness as their boats glide through the creeks and rivulets, bordered with primeval mangrove forest sheltering the most unimaginable dangers in its impenetrable undergrowth. A unique region where there are no borders to divide fresh from saline water, river from sea.

With a little luck one may experience a salt water Crocodile sunbathing in the mud; a flash in the corner of your eye could be Deer running into the forests. Most famously, however, this protected area is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger. There are strategically placed watch towers from which, fortunate travellers may get the opportunity to observe the regal beast in its natural surroundings, a thrill that can only be experienced first-hand. Incidentally, these watch towers may be reached only through corridors covered in protective net fencing.

You can explore the wildlife of Sunderban that harbours Jungle Cats, Fishing Cats, Axis Deer, Wild Boar, Rhesus Monkeys, Mongooses and the largest Estuarine Crocodiles in the world. Sunderban is the breeding ground of immense variety of birds like Heron, Egret, Cormorant, Fishing Engle, White Bellied Sea Eagle, Seagul, Tern, Kingfisher as well as migratory birds like Whimprel, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Stint, Eastern Knot, Curlew, Sandpiper, Golden Plover, Pintail, White-eyed Pochard and also Whistling teal. Come and discover wide variety of aquatic and reptile life forms that include Olive Ridley sea turtle, hardshelled Batgur Terrapin, Pythons, King Cobra, Chequered Killback, Monitor and Lizards including the Salvator Lizards.

Sunderban is characterized by the sundari trees that give the mangrove their name. These trees hold together the small islands of mud, on which they grow, with their roots. Nevertheless, with each incoming tide, the greyish brown silt looses itself to water seamlessly. Sunderban consists of a large flora population like genwa, dhundal, passur, garjan and kankra. Apart from these trees, impenetrable goran trees between 1.8 metres and 3.6 metres high cover almost the entire region. One of the most remarkable features of this place is the bayonet like roots of mangrove forests that stick out above the water level.

Nature apart, if you want to feel the essence of spirituality then this is the place to be. A place famous for Ma Bonobibi (the goddess of the forest) to Shiber Kumir (Lord Shiva's Crocodile) or from Dakshinaroy (an ogre, the ancestor of all tigers) to Kapil Muni (an incarnation of Vishnu).

Uniqueness of Sundarban Forest

Sunderbans

Sunderban Biosphere Reserve was constituted by Government of India (GOI) in 1989 and it received the recognition of UNESCO under its Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme in November, 2001. Sunderban National Park, forming the core area of Sunderban Tiger Reserve, received recognition as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. It has been nominated by GOI for recognition as Ramsar Site (a wetland of international importance). Sunderban Tiger Reserve was constituted by GOI under Project Tiger scheme, in 1973. Sunderban is the only mangrove forest in the world which is the home of Tigers. Sunderban Tiger Reserve has the highest tiger population in the world.

Importance of Sunderban Ecosystem

Sunderbans

Sunderban has extremely rich diversity of aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna. Sunderban's highly productive ecosystem acts as a natural fish nursery. Sunderban mangrove reduces the fury of cyclonic storm and prevents erosion due to tidal action. Finally, millions of people depend on Sunderban ecosystem for their livelihood and sustenance through fishing, collection of honey and fuelwood/timber.

Topography and Soil

Geologically, the Sunderban delta is the largest prograding delta on the globe. The region is covered solely by quaternary sediments carried and deposited by the rivers Ganges , Matla & Bidyadhari.

Climate and rainfall

Although the region is situated south of the Tropic of Cancer, the temperature is equable due to its proximity to the sea. Average annual maximum temperature is around 35 C . Average annual rainfall is 1920 mm. Average humidity is about 82% which is more or less uniform throughout the year.

Tiger Census

Sunderbans

The Tiger estimation has traditionally been done in Sunderban by “Pug Mark Method” in which the fresh left hind pug mark impression is collected from the field and analyzed. The pugmark method was field friendly but due to some of the drawbacks, Project Tiger developed a new methodology for the “Monitoring of Tigers, Co-predators, Prey and Habitat”

The Monitoring of Tiger, Co-predators, Prey and Habitat Exercise in Sunderban was conducted from 5th January 2006 to 10th January 2006, as a part of All India estimation of Tiger, Co-predators, Prey and Habitat exercise.

Sunderban is among the five Natural World Heritage Sites In India namely, Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park, Keoladeo Wildlife Sanctuary, Sunderban National Park and Nandadevi National Park.

The Sunderban Biosphere Reserve has three main objectives:

  • Restoration of the unique mangrove ecosystem of Sunderban and conservation of its biodiversity.

  • Development of sustainable economic, social activities of the population living in the Biosphere Reserve.

  • Facilitating research, monitoring, education and training to perpetuate the achievements made.

People of the Sunderban

The people of this area are unique in their occupation and lifestyle, faiths, rituals and beliefs – farmers, fishermen, wood collectors, honey collectors and poachers.

Sunderban represents a society that is primarily agricultural. The people live in villages adjoining forests which is the home of Tigers. For survival, these people have to fight with nature day in and day out. The hardships of daily existence have given rise to fraternal feelings and non-communal traditions. Members of both Hindu and Muslim communities worship the same Gods and Goddesses. The two most famous among them are Dakshin Ray and Banabibi. Dakshin Ray is worshiped as the God of Tiger and all those who enter the forests for subsistence, worship Dakshin Ray irrespective of their caste, creed and religion. Banabibi, on the other hand, is considered as the protector of the inhabitants of the forests. She is popular both amongst Hindus and Muslims.

Wildlife of Sunderbans

Sunderbans

Sunderban mangrove forest is the single largest home of the Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris). Sunderban is also the only mangrove forest in the world having the Tiger as its indigenous population. As per 2004 census, the Tiger population in Indian Sunderban is around 274, out of which Sunderban Tiger Reserve and South 24-Parganas Forest Division have 249 Tigers and 25 Tigers respectively. There are 58 species of mammals, 55 species of reptiles and around 248 bird species.

Sunderban also harbors a good number of rare and globally threatened animals including Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodilus porosus), Fishing Cat (Felis viverrina), Common Otter (Lutra lutra), Water Monitor Lizard (Varanus salvator), Gangetic Dolphin (Platinista gangetica), Snubfin Dolphin (Orcella brevirostris), River Terrapin (Batagur baska), marine turtles like Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Turtle (Eritmochelys imbricata). Six species of Shark and Ray, which are found here, are included in Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act. These indicate that the Sunderban Reserved Forest is a natural biodiversity hot spot.
Other mammals comprise of Wild Boars, Spotted Deer, Porcupines and Rhesus Macaque. Among the reptiles, the King Cobra, the Common Cobra, Banded Krait, Russells Viper comprise the community of venomous reptiles, while the Python, Chequered Kil-Back, Dhaman, Green Whip Snake and several other species constitute the non-venomous snakes.

Cetaceans

Snubfin (Irrawady) and Gangetic Dolphin are frequently found in the estuarine rivers, the former being more abundant. The Black Finless Porpoise (Necmeris porosus) is also found in the rivers near the estuary. The marshes and river offer asylum to the Estuarine Crocodile, one of the most endangered and the largest of Crocodiles. A wide variety and assortments of Fish, molluscs, crabs and Prawns inhabit the estuaries. The amphibious Mud-skipper Fish such as Periopthalmus sp. and Boleopthalmus sp. arouse considerable interest. Also found are Whale Shark, Tiger Shark, Hammer Headed Shark, Saw Fish, Guitar Fish and some common edible fish e.g., Hilsa ilisha , Setipinna breviceps, Setipinna taty, Gudusia chapra etc. Among the crustaceans, commonly found are the One Armed Fiddler Crab (Uca sp.) and the two species of trilobite (Tachypleus gigus and Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda). The latter is also known as the Horse Shoe Crab, which is known as a living fossil and needs serious protection owing to its medicinal value and uncontrolled collection by quack doctors for commercial purpose.

Insects abound in the forests amongst which the Honey Bee (Apis dorsata) is a source of considerable income for the poor people living in fringe areas.

Avifauna

There are 248 species of birds including a large number of migrants from the higher latitudes that visit the area in winter. It consists of Herons, Egrets, Cormorants, Storks, Green Pigeons, Sand Pipers, Large and Small Spoonbills, Darters, Seagulls, Teal, Partridges, great variety of Wild Geese and Ducks.