To me, being in the Sundarbans is the same as travelling through the geography of my dreams. Cruising through a narrow creek in the heart of the tiger-swamp – certainly sounds intimidating. Vivid colour of kingfishers perched on overhanging trees, alarm calls of spotted deer, song of the mangrove pitta and the tender splash of a rowing boat make for a stirring adventure. The excitement reaches its highest echelon when a tiger happens to roar close by!
Well, other than tigers, crocodiles, and deer – the ones that we are familiar with – the Sundarbans is home to many fascinating life forms that we hardly hear about. There are some captivating species in this unique mangrove forest, which are little known to science and may go extinct in the near future.
The vast tract of mangrove supports around 50 species of mammals, 300 species of birds, 50 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, 23 species of butterflies and 400 species of fish.
These include three species of globally Endangered mammals – Bengal Tiger, Ganges River Dolphin and Fishing Cat. Finless Porpoise, Irrawaddy Dolphin and Oriental Small-clawed Otter are categorised as globally Vulnerable.
There are five species of globally threatened birds – amongst these Pallas's Fish Eagle and Masked Finfoot are globally Endangered, Lesser Adjutant is Vulnerable and White-rumped Vulture and Spoon-billed Sandpiper (last record was in 1992 from Egg Island) are Critically Endangered.
The forest also has four species of globally threatened reptiles – the Critically Endangered turtle Northern River Terrapin, Vulnerable Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, King Cobra and Burmese Python.
In this age of declining natural resources, people living around the forest still come home with a bucket full of fish. The river and creeks of the mangroves are still so productive that our small businesses could export fish and crab products abroad. The brave honey collectors still set their footsteps on the mighty mangroves – an occupation that is spiritually connected to the forest.
We can probably measure the economic and tangible values of the forest. However, the intangible values – the cultural connection of the local community, the nature-oriented connection with the tourists, researchers, nature-watchers and photographers are incalculable.
Altogether, this magical mangrove forest supports a handful of species that are rare, highly threatened worldwide and are on their last legs. By protecting this fantastic forest we would be saving all these species that are close to extinction and supporting humans who are dependent on the mangrove forest for their livelihood.