Fast-disappearing mangrove forests of the Sunderbans pose a question mark over the future of the Royal Bengal Tiger, an endangered species, say scientists.

Rapid deterioration in mangrove health is causing as much as 200 metres of the vegetation-rich coast to disappear annually in the Sunderbans, according to zoologists.

Nathalie Pettorelli, from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and senior study author, said: “Our results indicate a rapidly retreating coastline that cannot be accounted for by the regular dynamics of the Sunderbans. Degradation is happening fast, weakening this natural shield for India and Bangladesh.”

Sunderbans is the largest block of continuous mangrove forest in the world, native to nearly 500 species of reptile, fish, bird and mammals, including the world famous Royal Bengal Tiger, the journal Remote Sensing reports.

Thriving human development, rising global temperatures, degradation of natural protection from tidal waves and cyclones is inevitably leading to species loss in this richly biodiverse part of the world, according to a ZSL statement.

Sarah Christie, ZSL’s tiger conservation expert, says: “The Sunderbans is a critical tiger habitat; one of only a handful of remaining forests big enough to hold several hundred tigers. To lose the Sunderbans would be to move a step closer to the extinction of these majestic animals.”