One of the world’s largest populations of wild tigers will be without its major habitat in 50 years, according to a new UN study. Research published this month in the journal Science of The Total Environment predicts rising sea levels will be "enough to decimate" the few hundred Bengal tigers inhabiting 4,000 square miles of marsh and mangrove forest in India and Bangladesh, reports the New York Times. Because 70% of that habitat, the Sundarbans, sits just a few feet above sea level, rising waters will take a toll. Some islands are already submerged and fresh water is limited, per CNN. "By 2070, there will be no suitable tiger habitats remaining in the Bangladesh Sundarbans," concluded researchers, who based their study on climate scenarios. Lead author Sharif Mukul tells CNN that poaching, disease outbreak, and prey reduction weren't considered.
But those are also key issues affecting the tigers, meaning their outlook could be even worse than predicted. The World Wildlife Fund cited "an escalating poaching crisis, habitat degradation and fragmentation" in reporting that the number of Bengal tigers in the Bangladesh Sundarbans fell from 440 to 106 between 2004 and 2015. Illegal poaching also has significantly reduced numbers of spotted deer, the Bengal tiger's main prey. Officials are working on possible solutions, such as storm surge walls and crops that can endure a certain amount of water salinity. But researchers say that's not enough. "Enhancing terrestrial protected area coverage, regular monitoring, law enforcement, awareness-building among local residents among the key strategies needed to ensure long-term survival and conservation," they write. (More than 1 million species are now at risk of extinction.)