1.         Sundarbans National Park (India) (N 452)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1987

Criteria  (ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/452/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 2001-2001)
Total amount approved: USD 20,000
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/452/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds


Previous monitoring missions


Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/452/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2002

The Tiger Project undertook its bi-annual tiger census of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve (the core zone of which is the Sundarbans National Park and World Heritage site) from the 7th to 14th December 2001. The census involves the registration of freshly left, hind-leg pugmarks through plaster casts and tracings. It is followed by laboratory and computer analysis to generate the tiger population estimates. The final estimate of the tiger population from the 2001 Census is yet to be released. An advisor to the Chair of the Cat Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) had noted that Indian and international tiger specialists believe that this methodology overestimates the number of tigers. Preliminary results from a "mark/recapture" study by an Indian scientist using photo-traps are understood to indicate that the tiger population could be fewer than 100. IUCN believes methodologies and techniques used for tiger census require a thorough review in order to improve reliability of estimates of tiger densities. Rigorous surveys to establish densities of the tigers’ core prey species are also needed.


A media release by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) of 24 January 2002 reports that the High Court of Calcutta issued a notice to the Government of India and eight ministries and agencies instructing them to reply to a Public Interest Petition (PIL) filed by WPSI on the damage that is being caused to the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve by illegal prawn fishing and other encroachments. The aim of the PIL is to try and stop the uncontrolled harvesting of tiger prawn ‘seeds’ (larvae) by illegal encroachment, which is proving detrimental to the fragile mangrove ecosystem. Thousands of fishermen are infiltrating the Tiger Reserve on a daily basis to collect prawn “seeds” with illegal and damaging dragnets. Barges and ships travelling from Calcutta to Bangladesh and the north-eastern regions of India are also encroaching on the Reserve. The PIL asks the Court to instruct the authorities to take immediate steps to: (a) stop collection of prawn seeds and demolish all prawn farms in the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and within a radius of 10 Km from the Reserve; (b) prevent the destruction and trespass of the Tiger Reserve in connection with collection of prawn seeds and prosecute those found guilty; and (c) appoint a committee that will submit a report on the impact and effects that prawn seed collection is having on the Reserve's environment and ecology.


Tiger prawn “seeds” collection started in the late 1980’s with the introduction of scientific brackish water prawn culture techniques. Before that period fish and prawn cultures were dependent on natural conditions i.e. fish fingerlings and prawn seeds entered “Bheries” with the influx of river water at high tide during new or full moon. At that period tiger prawn seed stocking (concentration) was not more than five per sq. metre. With increasing export value of tiger prawns and the use of artificial culture techniques, the seed stocking density has increased beyond its natural carrying capacity. The natural production of tiger prawn seeds was not sufficient to fulfill the demand, and hence their physical collection from the rivers of the Sundarbans commenced. This practice has not only diminished the tiger prawn population but also a large number of fingerlings and seeds of other prawn and fish species. This is predicted to have a step-by-step impact on the food chain. It will also lead to an increase in the plankton population and a change in the aquatic environment, with subsequent changes in species composition. A considerable number of seed collectors drag their nets along the side of the water courses, causing erosion and preventing the establishment of mangrove seedlings on the mudflats. IUCN notes that tiger prawn seed harvesting can pose a serious threat to the ecosystem of the Sundarbans as a whole, and has implications for the sustainability of the fisheries in the region.


Eighteen persons have been killed by tigers in the Sundarbans (including fishermen, honey collectors and wood-cutters), and four persons injured during 2000 - 2001. To control tiger straying, the Reserve has trained staff in immobilization (tranquillization of tigers to enable capture and release back in the Reserve), and new tranquillization equipment has been purchased. Speedboats are being employed in order to reduce reaction time to emergencies. Use of nylon fencing has been found to be very effective and it is planned to expand its use in all sensitive areas. Meetings with villagers and local government are held regularly.


About 40,000 tourists visit the Sundarbans every year. A tourist lodge has been established at Sajnekhali. The entry of tourists requires payment of a fee, and is restricted to the buffer area. Participatory Management is practiced in the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve. Ten Forest Protection Committees and 14 Eco-Development Committees have been formed in the fringe areas of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve. A number of eco-development activities are being undertaken in partnership with these committees, including: construction of irrigation channels, ponds, tube wells, paths and jetties; development of fish and crab culture; provision of solar power and the establishment of medical camps, and vocational training.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN


Decision Adopted: 26 COM 21B.9

The World Heritage Committee:

1. Invites the State Party to provide up-to-date information on the current status of the Public Interest Petition (PIP) on the impacts of tiger prawn seed harvesting and the measures taken by authorities to address the concerns raised by the PIP;

2. Recommends that the State Party with the participation of Indian experts and the experts of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of IUCN, consider undertaking a review in order to provide additional inputs regarding methodologies and techniques used for tiger census to improve reliability of estimates of the tiger population in the Sundarbans, as well as a rigorous scientific ungulate study to establish the available prey base;

3. Notes the offer of support to the State Party from IUCN and the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group;

4. Invites the State Party to consider these issues within the context of the review of the state of conservation of the site as part of the Periodic Reporting process now underway for reporting at its 27th session in June/July 2003.