Sundarban Lies south-east of Kolkata in the 24-Paraganas (S) District of West Bengal and forms part of the Gangetic Delta, which borders on the Bay of Bengal. About half of the Sundarbans is under water and the rest of the landscape is characterized by low-lying alluvial islands and mud banks, with sandy beaches and dunes along the coast. As with the rest of the Bengal Plain, alluvial deposits are geologically very recent and deep. The entire mangrove forest extends over an area of 4,262 sq.km, of which 2,320 sq.km is forest and the rest is water and is called Sundarban owing to the dominance of the tree species locally known as ‘Sundari’ because of its elegance. Home to one of the largest concentrations of tigers on the planet, the reserve is a network of channels and semi-submerged mangroves that is part of the world’s largest river delta. Royal Bengal tigers not only lurk in the impenetrable depths of the mangrove forests, but also swim the delta’s innumerable channels. A trip to this watery World Heritage site is rewarding with or without a glimpse of the big cats. Cruising the broad waterways or through numerous creeks of the world’s biggest mangrove forest and watching wildlife, whether it be a spotted deer, water monitor or luminescent kingfisher or even enjoying the mudskippers on the river bank is sublime and a world away. Mingling with local life during a short stay within the park could depict a fascinating picture probably unknown to the rest of the world.  

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Sundarban Tiger Reserve

Sundarban, the largest delta in the world, consists of 10,200 sq km of Mangrove Forest , spread over India (4200 sq km of Reserved Forest ) and Bangladesh (6000 sq km approx of Reserved Forest ) and is also the largest Mangrove Forest in the world. Indian Part of Sundarban is located in southern part of the West Bengal state. Sundarban has extremely rich diversity of aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna. Sundarban’s highly productive ecosystem acts as a natural fish nursery for Bay-of Bengal.

Since it is located on a very high cyclonic zone, Sundarban Mangrove reduces the fury of cyclonic storm and prevents erosion due to tidal action.

Sundarban National Park , forming the core area of Sundarban 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).

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

According to Hunter’s Statistical Account of Sundarban, written in 1878, “Tigers, Leopards, Rhinoceros, Wild Buffaloes, Wild Hogs, Wild Cats, Barasinga, Spotted Deer, Hog Deer, Barking Deer, and Monkeys are the principal varieties of wild animals found in Sundarbans”. However, over the last 200 years or so, due to habitat degradation and ecological changes, the faunal compositions in Indian Sundarbans have undergone changes. Some of these animals in Sundarbans became extinct during the last two centuries like Javan Rhino, Wild buffalo, Swamp deer and Barking deer.

Sundarban mangrove forest is the single largest home of the Royal Bengal Tiger ( Panthera tigris ) and the only mangrove forest in the world having the tiger as its indigenous population.

Flora and Fauna:

The entire mangrove forest extends over an area of 4,262 sq.km, of which 2,320 sq.km is forest and the rest is water and is called Sundarban owing to the dominance of the tree species Heritiera fomes, locally known as ‘Sundari’ because of its elegance . This marsh vegetation consists of elements of the Malayan Peninsular and Polynesian regions, together with some Indo-Chinese, Ethiopian and a few of the New World. It is not found elsewhere except in a small part of the Mahanadi and Godaveri deltas to the south-west and the Bay Islands. The Sundarbans has been classified as moist tropical seral forest, comprising beach forest and tidal forests.

Salt-water Heritiera forest (6-11m high), a low salinity vegetation type, occurs between the Raimangal and Matla rivers, where freshwater flows from the Ichhamati River into the Raimangal River. Characteristic species include Garjan, Kankra, Goran and Baen. Heritiera fomes is scattered over areas of higher elevation, along with keora, Genwa, Dhundul, and the Date palm or hental Phoenix paludosa. The golpata palm Nipa fruticans is relatively uncommon but occurs on wet mud-banks along the creeks. Beach forest occurs on coastal islands comprising low sand-dunes which, together with lime formed from disintegrating shells and salt, give rise to a pronounced xerophytic habitat despite the high rainfall. Sand-dunes are partially covered with spear-grass, behind which are creepers and shrubs or trees, such as Jhao Tamarix troupii, Palita Erythrina variegata and Kulsi Aegiceras corniculatus.

In a more recent examination of the composition and structure of the mangrove vegetation, 69 plant species are identified. This report also includes inventories of algae, phytoplankton and fungi.

The Sundarbans is the only remaining habitat in the lower Bengal Basin for a great variety of faunal species.

The tiger Panthera tigris (E) population, estimated at 274 in 2004, is the largest in India. High population density, relative to the availability of prey, and the relatively high frequency of encounters with local people (within the tiger reserve) is probably largely responsible for the notorious man-eating habits of the Sundarbans tiger . The fishing cat Felis viverrinus abounds. The only ungulates are wild boar Sus scrofa, main prey species of the tiger, and spotted deer Cervus axis, which is plentiful and often seen in association with rhesus macaque Macaca mulatta.

Aquatic mammals that frequent the tidal waters include the Ganges dolphin Platanista gangetica, Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphin Sousa chinensis, Irrawaddy dolphin Orcaella brevirostris and finless porpoise Neophocaena phocaenoides.

The Sundarbans provide important habitat for a variety of reptiles including River Terrapin Batagur baska, Olive Ridley Lepidochelys olivacea, Estuarine Crocodile Crocodylus porosus, Monitor lizard Varanus flavescens and water monitor V. salvator.. The only species of turtle known to nest in the Sundarbans is the Olive Ridley but Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata has been caught in fishermen’s nets . The creeks are spawning grounds for some 90 species of fish, 48 species of crabs and a large variety of molasses. Six species of Shark and Ray, which are found here, are included in Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act.

Among the other reptiles, the King cobra, the common cobra, Banded krait, Russells Viper comprise the community of venomous reptiles, while the Python, Chequered Kil-Back, Green Whip Snake and several other species constitute the non-venomous snakes. All These indicate that Sundarban Reserved Forest is a natural biodiversity hot spot.

There are over 240 species of birds found in Sundarban including a large number of migrants from the higher latitudes that visit the area in winter. Noteworthy residents including Asian Open-bill, Black-necked stork, Lesser Adjutant Stork, White ibis, Swamp francolin, Paradise Flycatcher etc.

A variety of terns and kingfishers including Collared kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfisher, Brown-winged kingfisher, Stork-Billed Kingfisher and Pied Kingfisher are seen on the large rivers and in flooded areas. This area is important for waders, including the Asian Dowitcher, Greylag Goose, Bar-headed Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail , Common Teal, Red-crested Pochard etc. Important birds of prey found here includes Osprey, Pallas’s fish eagle, White-bellied sea-eagle, Grey-headed fishing eagle, Peregrine falcon, Oriental hobby, Northern eagle owl and brown fish owl.

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