Smithsonian scientists need to research a rare tiger population whose mangrove-forest habitat is threatened by rapid sea-level rise, and they need to do this as soon as possible. They will analyze DNA samples gathered from hundreds of tiger fecal samples collected in the wild, improving their understanding of the existing population’s size, female to male ratio, genetic diversity, movement patterns and home range. With our funding, these findings will be integral to preserving this endangered Bengal tiger population as its habitat vanishes.
Why are Sundarban tigers in trouble?
As the only mangrove-dwelling tiger population in the world, Sundarban tigers are a unique population of the Bengal tiger subspecies. Their home is the Sundarbans—a large mangrove forest habitat in Bangladesh and India on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Rising sea levels caused by climate change threaten to wipe out this biologically diverse forest, with some experts projecting that the sea level could rise in the next three decades by about a foot, likely making this tiger population’s home disappear under the sea.
In 2015, researchers estimated just 106 Sundarban tigers were left in Bangladesh.
What exactly is being done to help and where?
From 2014 to 2017, Smithsonian researchers partnered with WildTeam, a local conservation organization in Bangladesh, for a USAID-funded project to better understand the Sundarbans habitat and the species that live there, including the Sundarban tigers. Unfortunately, the project was halted in early 2017 due to overall budget cuts in all USAID programs in Bangladesh. This was a huge setback, with a tremendous amount of data and sample collections already acquired. Since then, the project has been on hold. Until now. With our support, researchers will be able to continue this important work.
What specific items or support do scientists need to make this possible?
The experts at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation Genomics have the tiger scat samples, they just need the funding to analyze them. They need support to fund the DNA sequencing and analysis, to share this critical information with those conservationists who can help these tigers, and to bring on board a graduate student to lead the work.
What positive impact will this work have on the survival of this species?
To create a better future for the dwindling Sundarban tiger population, researchers will now have data about the subspecies’ genetic diversity and associated characteristics. With this, they will have the valuable insights they’ve needed to inform population management in the area, to help this endangered tiger population on the road to recovery.