India may have got its latest tiger population estimation wrong. On Friday, eight top wildlife experts, in a letter published in the Science magazine, said environment minister Jairam Ramesh's announcement that the tiger population had increased from 1,411 in 2006 to 1,706 in 2010 was based on "unreliable" data.
The letter added to the pressure on the government to adopt a new comprehensive methodology to count the tigers. K Ullas Karanth and seven Indian and international scientists said in their letter, "These (government's) assertions cannot be verified because details of tiger photo-captures at sampled locations, as well as of spatial extrapolations from these data, are incomplete."
Ramesh hit back by accusing Karanth, a member of the ministry's National Tiger Conservation Authority, of being intellectually dishonest and said the tiger estimation was correct. "Karanth is like the species (tiger) he studies -- extremely territory-conscious and essentially a loner," he said in an email to HT.
However, the day Karanth's letter was published, asking the government to overhaul its method of estimation, Ramesh approved a new scientific plan for counting the big cat population.
The environment minister Jairam Ramesh incorporated some of Karanth's suggestions in the new plan such as annual monitoring and tiger estimation in 41 tiger reserves, wider coverage of camera-traps to capture in-depth tiger demography and greater reliability of data.
Karanth described the decision as "practical, cost-effective and useful".
Agreeing with him, Ramesh said this important milestone in the tiger conservation strategy will allow regular updates on the number and health of the tigers across India.
India has 70% of the world's tigers but most of them live in 15 reserves, constituting a mere 10% of the remaining tiger habitat.