Year of compilation: 2004
AVIFAUNA: Sanyal (2002) identified 163 species of birds from Sunderban but recently, Sujan Chatterjee (in litt. 2003) has listed 219 species. Although the whole of the Sunderban mangrove is a bird watcher’s paradise, Sajnakhali Wildlife Sanctuary is best known for its bird life. Mukherjee (1959) found 16 species in a breeding colony, including Darter Anhinga melanogaster and Black-necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus (both presently Near Threatened). In India, Sunderban in the most important site for the Vulnerable Masked Finfoot Heliopais personata. It is difficult to estimate the total number of this elusive bird, but it is fairly common in suitable areas. Earlier, Greater Adjutant Leptoptilos dubius was commonly seen but now sightings are rare due to drastic decline in its numbers. Another uncommon species is the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, which is regularly reported from this site. As can be expected, Sunderban is famous for its waterbirds and water-dependent birds, such as the kingfishers. Out of the 12 kingfisher species found in India, six are found in this IBA. They are the Common Alcedo atthis, Brown-winged Halcyon amauroptera, Stork-billed H. capensis, Ruddy H. coromanda, White-throated H. smyrnensis, Black-capped H. pileata, Collared Todiramphus chloris and Pied Ceryle rudis Kingfishers. About 30 species of small waders (sandpipers, stints, plovers, curlews, etc.) and nine species of gulls and terns are found here. Sunderban is one of two sites where the Mangrove Whistler Pachycephala grisola is definitely found. This species is not considered threatened by BirdLife International (2001) as it is widely distributed in south and southeast Asia but its narrow, ribbon-like habitat along the coasts, that is under tremendous human pressure all over Asia, would put this species at risk in future. Incidentally, this is the only bird species that is entirely restricted to mangroves (Ali and Ripley, 1987, Grimmett et al. 1998). The vast Sunderban mangroves and mud flats host hundreds of thousands of waterbirds, especially waders but as we do not have species-wise detailed information, we have not listed this site under any A4 criteria. This site is selected only on the basis of presence of globally threatened species (A1 criteria).
OTHER KEY FAUNA: Although seldom seem, the Tiger Panthera tigris is the star attraction of Sunderban. Sunderban also has the largest population of the Estuarine Crocodile Crocodylus porosus. A hundred years ago the Sundarban Forests were the home of many wild animals, including the Javan Rhinoceros Rhinoceros sondaicus, Swamp Deer Cervus duvauceli, Chital Axis axis, Wild Boar Sus scrofa, Rhesus Macaque Macaca mullata, Fishing Cat Felis viverrina, and Wild Buffalo Bubalus arnee. It is said that Barking Deer Muntiacus muntjak existed on these swamp islands, but it has not been recorded in recent years from the Sundarban Forests that lie in West Bengal.
Despite its status as a World Heritage Site, Biosphere Reserve, Tiger Reserve, National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, the Sunderban suffers from many anthropogenic problems. Illegal fishing, cutting of mangroves, poaching and encroachment are the biggest chronic threats. Illegal settlers are causing widespread destruction of mangroves, particularly on Jambu Dweep, the furthermost of the cluster of islands. The Supreme Court of India has banned human habitation on this island, but over 20,000 people reside here, mostly in a place called Charso Bees. The fishing business here, run mostly by Bangladeshis from Chittagong, records a turnover of about Rs. 1.5 billion annually. Many settlers on the island are unaware that fishing in the protected area is prohibited. Charaching in the Sundarban is a persistent and uncontrollable problem, because thousands of people move in the Reserve all the time. Charachers go mainly for Tiger and deer. Unmanaged tourism is another problem for the sensitive ecology of Sunderban. There are plans to build a large tourist resort on 750 acres of land spread across the five islands of Sagar, Kaikhali, Fraserganj, L-Plot and Jharkhali. A jetty will be built in Kolkata for ferrying tourists to those islands. There will be floatels, water sports and arrangements for excursions to different creeks in the delta. Such a massive project, in the name of ‘eco-tourism’, would give rise to anthropogenic problems and irreversibly damage the ecology.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve (National Park). Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/01/2021.