Tigers are one of our planet’s most fascinating animals. Dubbed a “charismatic megafauna,” those majestic big cats join a long list of animals with international symbolic importance, including African lions, humpback whales, giant pandas, bald eagles, and penguins. Despite this, one of the most intriguing aspects of Bengal tigers is sometimes neglected. They are the top predators of the Sundarbans mangroves, a rainforest swampland on the Indian-Bangladeshi coastlines that serves as a critical carbon sink.
Sundarbans means ‘beautiful forest’ in Bengali, with lush Heritiera fomes trees covering 70% of the jungle’s surface. It is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, with 150 fish species, 270 bird species, 42 mammal species, 35 reptile species, eight amphibian species, and new bug and fungal discoveries. Bengal tigers, the dominant species in this habitat, may weigh up to 325 kg (717 lb), run at speeds of up to 64 km/h (40 mph), and devour up to 40 kg (88 lb) of food at once. Bengal tigers, being pure predators, balance animal numbers, which balances plant populations, allowing mangrove trees to become the dominating vegetation in this thriving delta. This tropical coastal wetland would not cover the 140,000 hectares it does now if it weren’t for Royal Bengal tigers, as they’re known in this part of the world.
The Sundarbans absorbed 98 percent of the carbon released by a coal-fired power station in Kolaghat, India, according to Raghab Ray of the University of Tokyo and Tapan Kumar Jana of the University of Calcutta. Mangroves not only absorb and store greenhouse gases pushed into the atmosphere for hundreds of years, but they also clean the air humans breath. The Bengal tiger is at the helm of this critical habitat. According to estimates, tigers have existed on the Indian subcontinent for 12,000 to 16,500 years from the Late Pleistocene.
The number of wild tigers in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh has increased to 3,890 from only 2,000 in the 2000s, thanks to conservation efforts across the three countries. In the context of rising global temperatures, this is a beneficial trend. Bengal tigers help mangrove trees survive, which cleans the air, protects coastal towns from floods, secures the livelihoods of residents living off the land, and mitigates climate change. It is a critical natural climate solution to protect this cherished animal and understand the role Bengal tigers play in our common ecology.