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Fauna The Sundarbans hosts a large variety of animals. It is the last stronghold of the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris). Within the forest habitats there are about 50 species of mammals, about 320 species of inland and migratory birds, about 50 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians, and about 400 species of fish. Besides the spectacular Royal Bengal Tiger, the other notable mammalian Fauna are Spotted deer (Cervus axis), Barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), Jungle cat (Felis chaus), Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), the Indian porcupine (Hystrix indica), Otter (Lutra perspicillata), and wild boar (Sus scrofa).Deer and wild boar constitute the main prey for the tiger. Some species including the Bengal tiger are endangered. The ecological diversity of the Sundarbans supports a large variety of birds. Among the total number of species recorded, most are resident. Over 50 species are known to be migratory and are mostly represented by the waterfowls. The egrets, storks, herons, bitterns, sandpipers, curlew, and numerous other waders are seen along the muddy banks. There are many species of gulls and terns, especially along the seacoast and the larger waterways. Accipitridae (kites, eagles, vulture, harrier etc) is represented by about 22 species. Nine species of kingfishers are available in the forest. The rich avifaunas of the forest include species of woodpeckers, barbets, owls, bee-eaters, bulbul, shrikes, drongos, starlings, mynas, babblers, thrush, oriole, flycatchers, and many others.

Of about 50 species of reptiles the largest member in the Sundarbans is the Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), some of which may attain a length of about seven metres. Although once they were abundant in this mangrove habitat, their total number is now estimated to be around 250. Species of lizards, including the Monitor Lizards Varanus, turtles, and snakes are well-represented. Among the snakes, the King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), Russell Viper (Vipera russellii), Rock Pyhon (Python molurus), Banded Krait (Bungarus fasciatus) and several species of sea snakes are notable. Only eight species of amphibians have been reported from the Sundarbans. The green frog (Euphlyctis hexadactylus) is mostly observed in Chandpai area of the mangrove forest. The other forest amphibians include the Skipper frog (E. cyanophlyctis), Cricket frog (Limnonectes limnocharis), Tree frog (Polypedates maculatus), and the common toad.

The Sundarbans suports nearly 400 species of fishes in its varied aquatic habitats; these include both the pelagic and demersal fishes. Many species use these habitats as nursery grounds. No aquaculture or fish farming is allowed in the Sundarbans. The Forest Department controls the fish catch from the area. Among the invertebrates some molluscs and crustaceans constitute important fisheries resources. About 20 species of shrimps, 8 species of lobsters, 7 species of crabs, several species of gastropods, and 6 species of pelecypods have been reported from the Sundarbans. Among the shrimps Penaeus monodon and Metapenaeus monoceros and the mud crab Scylla serrata are commercially important. Insects are varied, the most important being the honeybee Apis dorsata. Locally known as Mouals, the professional bee collectors gather honey for three to four months during the flowering season taking permission from the Forest Department. The forest is very rich in its spider fauna (Araneae). Nearly 300 species under 22 families have been recorded from the mangrove forest habitats.

Economic value, tourism and forest dwellers The most important value of the Sundarbans lies in its protective role. It helps hold coastlines, reclaim coastal lands, and settle the silt carried by the rivers. The estuary is a good breeding centre for many fishes. Several plant-based industries have been developed here. The most important ones are the newsprint and hardboard mills in Khulna. The raw material for the former is gewa and for the latter sundari. Other important plant-based industries are match factories and boat building. The forest is a good source of fuel, tannins, thatching, wooden articles, medicinal plants, and fodder. The forest is also a major source of honey and bee wax. Aegiceras corniculatum, Ceriops decandra, Nipa species, Derris species, and Hibiscus tiliaceous are the major honey plants.

Most frequently visited sites in the Sundarbans include Katka, Hiron Point (known commonly as Nilkamal), Dublar Char and Tiger Point (Kachi Khali). Katka attracts tourists for its landscape and wildlife. There is a forest rest house here and an observation tower. Hiron Point also has a rest house and an observation tower. Dublar Char is an island with a beautiful beach. The other attraction of the island is the fishing activities that take place every year between mid-October and mid-February. Fishermen from other places of the country, especially from Chittagong, assemble here during the period to catch fish and dry them on the sunny beach. The honey collectors go into the forests during April-May. Only a few people live permanently in or around the Sundarbans. They include the bawalis (collectors of golpata), mouals (honey collectors) and woodcutters. Their dwellings are usually at the edge of the forest and the houses are built on platforms supported on 3-5 m high poles of wood or Bamboo. Some people, especially the bedyas (gypsy) live on boats.

 

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