Monday, November 19, 2007

Bangladesh cyclone an 'ecological disaster': experts

Terra Daily, via AFP: Experts said Sunday they feared for the wildlife and ecology of the world's biggest mangrove forest after a deadly cyclone tore through the Sunderbans -- home to the endangered Royal Bengal tiger. Zunayed Kabir Chowdhury, a Dhaka-based mangrove expert, said he feared thousands of deer as well as many tigers and wild boar had been swept away by the massive tidal wave triggered by cyclone Sidr last Thursday.

"The eye of the cyclone hit the part of the Sunderbans which is known to be the most important habitat of the tigers and other wildlife," he said. The nests of many birds would also have been destroyed, he added.

"Wildlife is vulnerable to this sort of natural disaster and much would have been washed away by the strong surge," said Shanti Ranjan Das of the government's livestock department. "The cyclone has inflicted an ecological disaster," he added.

The vast mangrove forest, listed as a World Heritage Site by the UN cultural organisation UNESCO, is a natural barrier that stands between much of southern Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. It protects millions from the bay's many less serious tidal waves and cyclones.

But experts said even the Sunderbans had not been able to withstand the force of cyclone Sidr, which it is feared killed thousands of people. Ainun Nishat, the World Conservation Union's country representative in Bangladesh, has said the storm flattened thousands of trees and that it will be some time before the full impact on the forest becomes clear.

The Sunderbans lies on the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta where it meets the Bay of Bengal and covers about 5,800 square kilometres (3,590 square miles). There are around 200 lush forested islands, separated by a complex network of hundreds of tidal rivers and creeks. About 40 percent of the Sunderbans is in India.

Although not inhabited, the jungle is a magnet for thousands of impoverished villagers who live along its boundaries and work there as fishermen or collecting honey or wood. The forest is home to an estimated 500 Royal Bengal tigers. There are only an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 tigers left worldwide, down from 100,000 in 1900.

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