Why study tigers in the Sundarbans? Why not put all our resources and efforts into protection? Surely we know enough about tigers by now to know how to help save them! Why are you trying to catch and collar tigers? Isn’t that a dangerous undertaking that endangers a tigers life?

These are important questions that deserve careful thought and response. Imagine if you are trying to manage an animal and its environment but you don’t know:

  •  how many animals you have
  •  what resources they need to survive
  •  how their habitat is changing, or
  •  what threats they are facing

The tigers of Bangladesh present such a conundrum. Studies from other countries such as Nepal, Russia, and India has told us a lot about some general life history characteristics and behavior that can probably be applied to all tigers, but we simply don’t know the first thing about the current Sundarbans tiger population or how current management strategies are affecting it.

There have been several valiant attempts to gain understanding of how tigers living in the Sundarbans survive, but the thick vegetation, large tidal fluctuations and a maze of waterways has hampered these efforts. The only way to really get to know how tigers exist in a particular habitat type is to follow those tigers using telemetry. This will give information on how much area they need, and what particular parts of the forest are essential for its well being. A female’s territory, for example, is directly related to the quality of the habitat, measured in abundance of prey. A female tiger needs to defend enough food for both itself and its young to live off. Defending to much will decrease its chances of survival (through increased competition from other tigers), as will defending too little (through starvation). Getting information on the home range size of female tigers in a particular setting will give a good estimate of the breeding population size. This can be used to calculate how the population will change to various pressures and will allow formulation of monitoring schemes that can quantify the effectiveness of management activities. Knowing about the population in isolation is not enough. We also need to know how the tigers use its environment, i.e. are their factors essential for their survival that also need to be managed and protected. Relating locational data from the radio/GPS collars will identify which factors are important. In addition, following tigers on a daily basis will give a huge amount of behavioral information that will help understand such issues as man-eating.

Not less importantly, a research program also helps tiger conservation indirectly by two different means. Firstly, a field level team provides ground level “eyes” in the forest that provide feedback to administrative policy makers, and act as a deterrent to human activities that would otherwise threaten the tigers or their habitat. Secondly, the information gained can be used to dramatically increase support for conservation by if it is made available to all levels of society, from government bodies and local communities to schools, universities and the general public.

There is certainly a small but very real risk to individual tigers that are captured for study. However, there is an even greater risk to the tiger population as a whole by sitting back and doing nothing. Look at other tiger countries and see where the most effective conservation has been carried out. You will soon find a clear pattern of well managed tiger populations connected to long-term scientific research programs.

Examples of tiger related research projects




Tiger abundance

Habitat selection

Prey selection

Movement patters

Response to human presence

6 Females need to be collared

Tigers followed on daily basis to
identify prey types and kill frequency




Social organization

Males & Females collared &
followed throughout their life
MAN-EATING Occurrence



Ecological factors

Record ecological conditions that pre-dispose a tiger to become a man-eater

Collar tigers in areas that consistently produce man-eaters

Collar problem tigers


Vegetation cover


Human use

Remote sensing and ground surveys to record and monitor ecological variables that effect tiger abundance and distribution


Update on findings from research conducted

The findings of the FD tiger abundance survey completed in 2007 have now been published in the journal of Biological Conservation. Now that we have a strong monitoring program we will be able to track changes in the tiger population over time so that we can measure if our conservation efforts are having an effect; if we are doing a good job then tiger numbers will remain stable or increase, if we are not being effective then the population will decline and the survey will help us identify problem areas where we need to put in more effort. The survey is planned to take place every two years. The abstract of the paper can be found at:- user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view;=c&_version=1&_urlVersion =0&_userid=10&md5;=ad547d6cf4b8d0a2cf34c81c209ed2ab

The findings from other research undertaken including home range, man-eating, prey abundance, and palaeontology are currently being analysed and written up. These will be made available as soon as this is complete.

Other workstreams required for a successful conservation program

The project was initially research focused – there was very little information on the tigers of the Bangladeshi Sundarbans and it is hard to gain the political and funding support for a full scale tiger conservation without such information. Now from the research base, the project is evolving rapidly to also encompass capacity building and conservation awareness activities. This will help ensure that the issues illuminated by research are mitigated via conservation action on the ground.


Capacity building Improve basic ecological understanding, data collection skills and general motivation of Forest Department staff working in the Sundarbans; this is being done through field training, workshops, presentations and the development of a field handbook and a short documentary film.
Enable the forest department to carry out scientific research and monitoring of tigers; this is being enables through the experience gained through the day to day activities of the research team
Enable the Forest Department to deal with problem tigers; this is being don through the creation of a problem tiger response team and a communications network throughout the human settlements bordering the Sundarbans.


Increasing conservation awareness GENERAL PUBLIC: through this web site, newspape articles, TV reports, books, films
TOURISTS: through presentations, literature and hopefully in the future a visitors center
SCHOOLS & UNIVERSITIES: through field trips, work opportunities, presentations and the production of educational materials
LOCAL COMMUNITIES: through presentations and free educational material

Has the Tiger a Future in India?

by Peter Jackson

India is suffering its third tiger crisis. Once again there is fear that the largest surviving national tiger population could face decimation, even extinction. Estimates in the late 1960s and early 70s that the tiger population had fallen to about 2,000, or less, was the first crisis, and it prompted Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to launch Project Tiger 1973 and to ban hunting and export of skins.

Project Tiger was a success. It was clear that the tiger population was recovering, and it led to widespread complacency until, in the early 1990s, tigers disappeared in the famous Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. A raid on a Tibetan house in Delhi uncovered 400 kg of tiger bones (possibly from some 30 tigers) ready for despatch to China for medicinal use. That was the second crisis. Action to control poaching was strengthened, and again the tiger population recovered.

Now the third crisis. Tigers are again missing from Ranthambhore, and have completely disappeared from the nearby Sariska reserve since mid-2004. A research scientist has declared that 30 tigers have disappeared from the Panna reserve, a claim denounced by Project Tiger officials.

The crisis has prompted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to call on the Central Bureau of Investigation to take action and to summon a meeting of the Indian Board for Wild Life.

The tiger bone trade has overshadowed the high toll on leopards; and it is now clear that skins of both big cats are in high demand in China. In October 2003, Chinese customs officers stopped a truck heading for Lhasa with the skins of 31 tigers, 581 leopards and 778 otters. Last year, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) listed 29 seizures from July 1999 to July 2004 in which 80 tiger skins, 20,000 tiger claws, and 1,200 leopard skins were recovered. Most seizures were in India, four in Nepal, and five in China. (see Cat News 41).

Exactly how many tigers there are in India is not known. Official statistics from tiger pugmark censuses put the number at 3,600 in 2001-02. But Indian tiger experts, including a former Director of Project Tiger, believe there are many fewer, perhaps only about 2,000 –as when Project Tiger was launched in 1973.

The tiger population is fragmented across India like an archipelago. According to official figures, only Corbett, Kanha and the Sundarban, out of the 27 Project Tiger reserves, have over 100 tigers. Nine reserves have 50-100 tigers; and the rest fewer than 50, one in the north-east reporting only four. But these estimates are based on Project Tiger’s pugmark censuses, which scientists have declared unreliable and with exaggerated results.

It is not only poaching that threatens the tiger, leopard and much other wildlife in India. The human population has topped one billion – nearly twice as many people as when Project Tiger was launched. The population continues to increase leading to heavy pressure on protected areas and other wild habitats for living space and development.

In booming India industrialisation rules; the senior official in the Ministry of Environment and Forests has declared that environment legislation and processes are causing risks for investors and need reforming. Senior judges have said that environmental protection is only incidental in industrial development.

Many Indian reserves contain rich mineral deposits and there is pressure to exploit them; mining, often illegal, has already been encroaching on reserves. Central and state governments have a growing interest in promoting “eco-tourism” centres or theme parks at popular reserves. Ranthambhore’s director has complained that he faces constant demands from tourist organisations to increase the already excessive number of vehicles daily entering its small area.

Fortunately the Supreme Court has been supportive of conservation and has even appointed a Central Empowered Committee, including leading conservationists, to advise it; the committee has already issued instructions on protection to state governments.

The future of the tiger looks bleak, but it can be improved by serious action. The tiger can recover quickly from low numbers because it is highly reproductive. To give it that opportunity it is essential that the government of India and all authorities involved, demonstrate political will and take effective action to save the tiger. And not only India; that applies to all other tiger range countries. The tiger is part of their heritage and the flagship of wildlife conservation; its extinction would bode ill for the natural world.