December 10, 2010

Bengal Tigers Getting Smaller Due To Stress: Study

Endangered Bengal tigers in India are not only shrinking population-wise, but they are also shrinking in size, according to a recent study released Thursday that suggests the big cats are becoming physically smaller.

Experts say "stress" associated with environmental changes impacting their habitat in the Sunderban mangrove swamps along the India-Bangladesh border is causing the tigers to lose weight.

Indian wildlife officials, conducting a survey of the famed beasts in the Sunderbans, found that the tigers there were lighter and their body parts were smaller than tigers from a decade ago.

"We were surprised that animals, which otherwise look healthy, weighed only 98 kilos (215 pounds)," Subrata Mukherjee, director of the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, told AFP.

"The average weight of an adult tiger should not be less than 140 kilos (305 pounds)," he added.

Experts said human encroachment was also a big problem. But they pointed more towards rising sea levels which are increasing the salinity of the Sunderban swamp waters surrounding the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers in the Bay of Bengal.

This problem has also reduced the number of fresh water ponds which attract the tigers' main prey -- the spotted deer.

"Spotted deer have become their main source of food, but the deer numbers are going down because of rising sea levels which is causing more flooding in the forest," said Pranabesh Sanyal, a tiger expert with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

"So the tigers are physically stressed and, being under-fed and malnourished, they are straying into human habitats in search of goats and cows," he added.

The last census done on the Bengal tiger population in the Sunderbans was in 2001-02. That census placed their numbers in the Indian section of the mangrove forest at just 274.


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