The Sunderbans National Park is home to the Royal Bengal tiger, and is a part of the world’s largest delta formed by the Ganga and Brahmaputra. It is also known for its unique mangrove forest ecosystem. The reserve spreads across 2,585 sq km, 0 to 10 m above sea level. It is a tiger and biosphere reserve and has been designated as world heritage site by UNESCO. It extends about 260 km along the Bay of Bengal from the Hooghly River Estuary (India) to the Meghna River Estuary in Bangladesh. The forest passes into a mangrove swamp along the coast. The southern region, with numerous wild animals and crocodile-infested estuaries, is virtually devoid of habitation.
There are a large number of activities that can be undertaken at the Sunderban National Park, together with observing the wildlife such as the chital, crocodile, monkeys, estuarine and marine turtle, dolphins and various kinds of birds. For instance, a cruise through the largest estuarine delta in the world is a thrilling experience that might even give you a glimpse of the majestic tiger. You could also come across rich tribal folklore, and woodcutters, honey collectors and fishermen out in the wild working for their survival.
The word “Sunderban” is derived from sundari and ban, which, when combined, means “the forests of sundari”-an obvious reference to the large mangrove trees. Sunderban has a variety of forests such as the mangrove scrub, littoral forest, salt water mixed forest, brackish water mixed forest, wet forest, wet alluvial grass forest, etc. the distribution of wildlife and vegetation is even throughout the Sunderban area.
The tiger reserve in Sunderban is a major tourist attraction. The number of tigers in this reserve is among the highest in the country. According to a census conducted in the 1980, the population of tiger here was close to 400. Besides the tiger, other forms of wildlife also inhabit these mangrove forests. The Gangetic dolphin, little porpoise, fishing cat, Indian fox, jungle cat, small Indian civet, common grey mongoose, spotted deer, wild pig, Indian flying fox, rhesus monkey and pangolin are some of the residents here.
The bird sanctuary at Sajnekhali contains a wide variety of birds. The most noteworthy among them are spotted billed pelican, cotton teal, herring gull, Caspian tern, grey heron, large egret, night heron, open-billed stork, white ibis, common kingfisher, brahmini kite and paradise flycatcher. The area is also important for waders, including the Asian dowitcher (Limnodromus semipalmatus), a rare winter migrant.
The birds of prey that reside here include osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Pallas’s fish eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), grey-headed fishing eagle (Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Oriental hobby (Falco severus), northern eagle owl (Bubo bubo) and brown fish owl (Ketupa zeylonensis).
Besides crocodiles, Sunderban is also home to sea snakes, dog-faced water snake, Ridley turtle, curvier, green turtle, hawks bill turtle, rat snake, king cobra, and python. The prominent water animals include saw fish, butterfish, starfish, crabs, prawns and shrimps.
The Sunderban National Park also has a wide variety of flora. There is mangrove scrub, littoral forest, salt water mixed forest, brackish water mixed forest and swamp forest. The distribution of wildlife and vegetation is even throughout the Sunderban area.
Due to its proximity to the Bay of Bengal, the Sunderbans experience very high humidity. Rainfall is quite heavy during monsoon, which last from mid-June to mid-September. After the monsoons, fair weather prevails until mid-March. The best season to visit the Sunderban is between December and February.