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Sundarbans National Park

Named after the mangrove tree species, sundari (Heritiera fomes), this picturesque web of waterways and islands, is home to the world's largest mangrove forests. The forests cover 10,000 sq km of which 40% lie in India and the remaining in Bangladesh. The Sundarbans National Park is located close to Calcutta in the 24 Paraganas district of West Bengal and forms a part of the world's largest delta: the Gangetic delta. Sediments from three large rivers, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna flow into the Gangetic delta. The park is situated at a latitude of 21°31'-21°53'N and longitude of 88°37'-89°09'E with elevations varying from sea level to 10 m. In 1973 a large part of the Sundarbans was designated as a tiger reserve whose core area was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1977. The national park occupying an area of over 1,330.10 sq km was set up in 1984, and the region was given the world heritage status in 1985. Plans are underway to recognise this unique mangrove ecosystem as a biosphere reserve. This protected area also includes several island groups like Sajnakhali Wildlife Sanctuary, Halliday Island and Lothian Island Wildlife Sanctuaries.

Vegetation is a mix of moist, tropical seral forests that includes beach forest and tidal forests. Beach forests can be seen on the coastal islands, which have low sand dunes and plenty of limestone deposits. Vegetation in the beach forests includes spear grass and tree species like jhao (Tamarix troupii), palita (Erythrina variegata) and kulsi (Aegiceras corniculatus). Two subtypes of tidal forests, i.e. low mangrove forest and salt water Heritiera forests are seen in the Indian part of Sundarbans. The salt water Heritiera tree forests can be seen between Raimangal and Matla rivers while the low mangrove forests with trees growing to heights of 3-6 m occur between Matla and Muriganga.

Tree species in the salt water Heitiera forests, where trees grow to heights between 6-11 m include garjan (Rhizophora sp.), kankra (Bruguiera gymnorhiza), goran (Ceriops sp.) and baen (Avicennia officinalis). The sundari trees can be seen growing at higher elevations along with other mangrove species like keora (Sonneratia apetala), gengwa (Excoecaria agallocha), dhundul (Carapa obovata), the date palm or hental (Phoenix paludosa) and the golpata palm (Nipa fruticans). In the low mangrove forests, short trees growing to a height of 2 m like goran, baen and hental are seen in abundance while species like sundari and golpata are almost absent. Mangrove species belonging to 49 genera and 29 families have been identified. Of the total mangrove species identified, 36 are true mangrove species, 28 are associated mangrove species and seven are obligatory mangrove species.

With respect to wildlife, the park is known for its population of tigers with a study done in 1993 estimating their numbers to be at 251. Other wildlife seen in the park include the fishing cat (Felis viverrinus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), spotted deer or chital (Axis axis) and rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta). Aquatic mammals seen here include the Ganges dolphin (Platanista gangetica), Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin (Sousa chinensis), Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) and finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides).

The Sajnakhali Wildlife Sanctuary present in the park attracts a large number of water birds, including species like Asian openbill stork (Anastomus oscitans), black-necked stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus), greater adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius), black-headed ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus) and swamp francolin (Francolinus gularis). Others, like the kingfisher species, white-collared (Todiramphus chloris), black-capped (Halcyon pileata) and brown-winged kingfisher (H. amauroptera), and the long-billed dowitcher (Limnodromus semipalmatus) and purple heron (Ardea purpurea) are common here. Raptors like osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Pallas's sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), white-bellied sea eagle (H. leucogaster), grey-headed fish eagle (Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Oriential hobby (F. severus), Eurasian eagle owl (Bubo bubo) and brown fish owl (Ketupa zeylonensis) too can be easily spotted in the park.

Reptile species seen here include the river terrapin (Batagur baska), olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), yellow monitor (Varanus flavescens), water monitor (V. salvator) and Indian rock python (Python molurus). As many as 90 species of fish and 48 species of crabs have been identified in the waters surrounding Sundarbans.

Major threats and problems affecting this protected area include siltation of the rivers, especially the Matla river, reclamation of land leading to salinisation and soil acidification, oil spills and poaching. Other impending threats are plans to set up a fertiliser plant at Mathurapur close to the Satpukur sluice gate near the periphery of the park.


Daniels, J. C. 2002. The book of Indian reptiles and amphibians. Bombay Natural History Society and Oxford University Press, Mumbai, India. 238 pp.

Kazmierczak, K. 2000. A field guide to the birds of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistn, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives. OM Book Service, New Delhi, India. 352 pp.

Menon, V. 2003. A field guide to Indian mammals. DK (India) Pvt Ltd and Penguin Book India (P) Ltd. 201 pp.

WII. 2007. List of protected areas. National Wildlife Database Cell. Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, India.

World Heritage Sites in India-United Nations Environment Programme. Accessed in March 2008.

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