|Tracking the tiger
Neha Sinha, 8th September, 2009
Delhi : How does one count India’s tigers which straddle wetland,
grassland, mountains and mangroves? With 90,000 people, Rs 8 crore and
two years of hard work.
The world’s biggest-ever count for the
big cat the All India Tiger Estimation is unfolding shortly.
Currently, instructions and methods of data collection are being
translated into regional languages Assamese, Bengali, Kannada, Oriya,
Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam for forest staff. In
October’s first week, training of forest staff through workshops in
different parts of India will be held.
In 2007, using cameras
and modern tiger-tracking techniques for the first time for counting
tigers, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had come up with a
startlingly low number of wild Indian tigers: 1,411 only. This time,
the census, to be conducted by WII with the help of NGOs, will be much
bigger. It will include the uncounted mangrove tigers in Sunderbans and
give an accurate count of tigers in the Northeast. Also, 60
students/researchers will be recruited by WII for the census.
A new software which will be key in basic field observations by field guards in a digital format is being used this year.
exhaustive tiger census will be conducted in three phases. In the first
phase, tiger signs will be searched for. Data collection for this phase
will start in November. In the second phase, remote-sensing techniques
will be used. In the third phase, camera-traps will be used to
photograph tigers. In each camera-trapping exercise, one set of two
cameras, triggered off by tiger movement, is used to capture both sides
of the tiger. One camera is used every 4 km in high-density tiger
“We are starting training workshops for forest staff.
By May 2010, we hope to finish phase I over central India, Terai,
Northeast and Sunderbans. By the time of the Global Tiger Summit, we
will have the distribution, numbers and occupancy of tigers over major
tiger landscapes in these areas,” says Yadavendra Jhala, from WII who
is one of the scientists conducting the census.
host a Global Tiger Summit in October next year in Ranthambhore. By
then, a basic count of major breeding tiger populations high or low
will be readied to announce to the rest of the international
participants at the summit. This comes at a time when tiger numbers are
at an all-time low.
In a recent estimate, the National Tiger
Conservation Authority has found that out of the 37 tiger reserves in
the country, 16 have poor tiger density. In the last one year, above 60
tigers are estimated to have died. The new number the census will
unearth is unlikely to be cheerful but will also lay to rest grossly
exaggerated tiger numbers which state forest departments have
The challenge posed by difficult habitats the
mountains in the Northeast, the mangroves in Sunderbans and dense
grasslands in other areas had limited the scope of the 2007 census.
The tigers of Sunderbans, which straddle inhospitable mangrove habitat,
were not counted at all. There was only a preliminary tiger count for
the Eastern and Northeastern tiger reserves like Kaziranga (Assam),
Namdapha (Arunachal Pradesh) Dampa (Mizoram) and West Bengal’s Buxa
tiger reserve. This time, tiger populations from all tiger reserves
with the possible exemption of some Naxalism-ridden areas like
Indrawati (Chhattisgarh), Palamau (Jharkhand) and Simlipal (Orissa)
will be counted.
The count will put to rest claims that many
states make on having “hundreds of tigers”. West Bengal has long
maintained that Sunderbans has “200-300 tigers”, a fact scoffed at by
tiger experts. At a recent all-India summit of field directors in
Sariska, Buxa field director claimed his park had 200 tigers. Orissa,
too, claims to have nearly 100 tigers.
But currently, as many
as seven tiger reserves, which face problems of insurgency and poor
tiger density, just don’t know how many tigers they have, or if they
have any tigers at all. These are Indravati, Simlipal (Orissa), Palamau
(Jharkhand), Manas (Assam), Namdapha (Arunachal Pradesh), Dampa
(Mizoram) and Buxa (West Bengal).