The world’s biggest exercise to count the number of tigers left in India started this week even as 2013 turned out to be a nightmare year for the big cats.
Around 39 tigers have been poached in India so far this year — the highest since 2005.
Two de-skinned tigers were found earlier this week near Jim Corbett National Park.
The year also saw the environment ministry clearing projects in vital tiger corridors in central India, which endanger their free movement from one wildlife zone to another.
Though states estimate tiger population within the boundaries of a reserve every year, this is a National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) survey where the whole habitat is surveyed. The exercise has been split into four phases across five major landscapes spanning 5,00,000 sq km of forests that house more than 90% of the country’s tigers. Over 2,000 experts will work with forest officials to count the tigers.
The year-long exercise will be the most “intensive” ever with a one kilometer search for the big cats for every square kilometer of the forest surveyed, said SP Yadav, NTCA’s deputy inspector general.
In 2010 census, India was home to 1,706 tigers or half the world’s tiger population.
Every tiger spotted in the 2013-2014 census will have to pass through three tests including camera trap and DNA testing of tiger scat to minimise duplicate counting.
The new population estimate will also help the NTCA to expand its digital database of tigers and make a first comparative analysis on individual tigers. “Every tiger caught on camera will be given a unique identification number based on their stripe patterns using computer software and a database maintained for the entire country,” Yadav said, adding that they already have picture database of 80% of tigers living inside 42 reserves.
HT PHOTO : Aditya 'Dicky' Singh
But the tiger estimation methodology adopted by the NTCA has some critics. K Ullas Karanth, director of Bangalore-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said the methodology may not give the best results. “The NTCA has not updated the basic methodology. But the one positive is introduction that it allows state governments to choose from a basket of protocols for final estimation,” he told HT.
NTCA, however, refuted his contention and said no other wildlife survey at this scale enjoys better tools or techniques. “Latest tools available have been provided,” a NTCA official said.
The NCTA survey will provide a holistic overview of the wildlife population in the landscapes being surveyed and provide information on leopards, dhole, bears and elephants.