Conservation and Biodiversity

Climate change could wipe out one of world’s largest tiger strongholds

Just a century ago, 100,000 tigers existed in the wild. That number is now down to 3,900, according to the World Wildlife Fund. More tigers live in captivity in the U.S. today than exist in the wild around the world.

The threats to tigers from poaching, illegal trade and habitat loss have been recognized for some time now, but another unchecked crisis now threatens to wipe out one of the world’s largest tiger strongholds: climate change. A recent study in Science and the Total Environment concluded that sea level rise and climate change could eliminate suitable tiger habitats for the iconic Bengal tiger in the next 50 years.

The Sundarbans of southern coastal Bangladesh is home to the world’s largest surviving mangrove habitat, as well as the last population of Bengal tiger adapted to living in a mangrove ecosystem. But by layering on future climatic projections, the study suggests that suitable Bengal tiger habitats in the Sundarbans will be hit hard.

The study warns: “Our model predicts that due to the combined effect of climate change and sea-level rise, there will be no suitable Bengal tiger habitat remaining in the Sundarbans by 2070.”

Bengal tigers account for about half the world’s population of wild tigers. Despite their revered status across India and Bangladesh, Bengals are endangered, with about 2,500 left in the wild.

Besides human-caused climate change, human threats to tigers include logging, agriculture and development. As tigers lose their homes to deforestation and their prey to development and hunting, conflicts between humans and tigers increase, often with devastating effects. In human-populated areas, tigers are particularly vulnerable to poaching and retaliatory killings.

To increase tiger populations, governments need to reduce poaching, conserve and replenish tiger habitats and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Humans have upset the balance of nature and, as a result, the world is facing the greatest rate of extinction since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, with about 1 million animal and plant species now threatened with extinction.

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