The Sundarbans are unique. They capture the geological process of delta formation and colonization (by a diverse assemblage of flora and fauna) in a way that is not possible in other parts of the world. These facts are among the reasons cited by UNESCO in its categorization of the Sundarbans as a World Heritage Site. Given below is the explanation from UNESCO’s website:

The Sundarbans provides a significant example of on-going ecological processes as it represents the process of delta formation and the subsequent colonization of the newly formed deltaic islands and associated mangrove communities. These processes include monsoon rains, flooding, delta formation, tidal influence and plant colonization. As part of the world’s largest delta, formed from sediments deposited by three great rivers; the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, and covering the Bengal Basin, the land has been moulded by tidal action, resulting in a distinctive physiology.

The Sundarbans provides a significant example of on-going ecological processes as it represents the process of delta formation and the subsequent colonization of the newly formed deltaic islands and associated mangrove communities. These processes include monsoon rains, flooding, delta formation, tidal influence and plant colonization. As part of the world’s largest delta, formed from sediments deposited by three great rivers; the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, and covering the Bengal Basin, the land has been moulded by tidal action, resulting in a distinctive physiology.

One of the largest remaining areas of mangroves in the world, the Sundarbans supports an exceptional level of biodiversity in both the terrestrial and marine environments, including significant populations of globally endangered cat species, such as the Royal Bengal Tiger. Population censuses of Royal Bengal Tigers estimate a population of between 400 to 450 individuals, a higher density than any other population of tigers in the world.

The property is the only remaining habitat in the lower Bengal Basin for a wide variety of faunal species. Its exceptional biodiversity is expressed in a wide range of flora; 334 plant species belonging to 245 genera and 75 families, 165 algae and 13 orchid species. It is also rich in fauna with 693 species of wildlife which includes; 49 mammals, 59 reptiles, 8 amphibians, 210 white fishes, 24 shrimps, 14 crabs and 43 mollusks species. The varied and colourful bird-life found along the waterways of the property is one of its greatest attractions, including 315 species of waterfowl, raptors and forest birds including nine species of kingfisher and the magnificent white-bellied sea eagle.

Before the arrival of the British colonists with their deadly firearms and insatiable appetite for hunting, the region boasted of a collection of megafauna that could rival the great wildernesses of the world – Africa’s Serengeti, or Europe’s Bialowieza Forest. Or that other water world half a globe away – Amazonia. Like the iguanas, caimans, anacondas, manatees, dolphins, tapirs, peccaries, deer, capybaras, giant otters, pumas and jaguars of Amazonia, the Sundarbans harboured a flourishing community of herbivores and carnivores. Given below is a list of some of those species (both extant ones, like the Tiger, and those long-gone, like the Indian and Javan Rhinos):

  • Asian Water Monitor (Varanus salvator)
  • Golden Monitor (Varanus flavescens)
  • Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)
  • Marsh Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)
  • Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)
  • Indian Python (Python molurus)
  • Burmese Python (Python bivittatus)
  • King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
  • South Asian River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica)
  • Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris)
  • Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis)
  • Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus)
  • Wild Boar (Sus scrofa)
  • Indian Muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak)
  • Indian Hog deer (Hyelaphus porcinus)
  • Barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii)
  • Chital (Axis axis)
  • Wild Water Buffalo (Bubalus arnee)
  • Smooth Coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata)
  • Tiger (Panthera tigris)
  • Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)
  • Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows an illustration of the Indian Rhinoceros by C.E. Swan, from the book ‘The Wild Beasts of the World’ (authored by Frank Finn). Cuthbert Edmund Swan (1870–1931) was a famous illustrator of wild animals, and is renowned for his portraits of big cats. This particular image dates back to 1909.

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