May 28, 2009

The Search Is On For Rare Tigers

The search is on for endangered Bengal tigers in the world's largest mangrove forest after a cyclone caused havoc there killing at least 180 people.

Conservationists are scouring the Sundarbans mangrove forest for the tigers. The Cyclone Aila drove a tidal wave of saltwater inland.

Abani Bhusan Thakur, chief Bangladesh official for the Sundarbans, said the forest had taken the brunt of the damage.

The cyclone hit Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal on Monday.

He said forest workers would now search the 4,000-square-mile area; a UN survey found an estimated 650 Bengal Tigers live there.

"The entire mangrove forest was flooded by a huge tidal surge. There are some freshwater ponds which the tigers drink from, but now everything is salty," Thakur said.

"We are worried about the fate of the tigers. We need to get fresh drinking water to the area for them."

One of the rare tigers swam into an Indian village looking for dry ground, said Subrata Mukherjee, the director of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve.

He said the tiger was tranquilized and caged, and would be soon be set free.

"We fear that other Bengal tigers may have been swept away by the giant waves," he added.

In November 2007, at least one tiger died during Cyclone Sidr, which killed more than 3,500 people.

The Sundarbans forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. The forest straddles the border between India and Bangladesh.

The IUCN Red List estimates that worldwide, there are less than 2,500 Bengal tigers left.